Book Review: Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman

No lie. This is a great book.
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In his introduction, author J.B. Kaufman reveals that he considers Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940) a member of “the fraternity of true epics,” alongside D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, Erich von Stroheim’s original Greed, and Abel Gance’s Napoleon, and he certainly makes the case with his definitive examination presented in Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic.

He starts at the beginning, going back to the 19th century when writer Carlo Lorenzini took the name the Tuscany village he grew up, “Collodi,” as his pseudonym under which he published “The Story of a Puppet.” As stated in the foreword by John Canemaker, an award-winning animation director as well as being an author/animation historian himself, Kaufman then “reveals the struggles, triumphs and disappointments encountered by Disney and his staff during the creation of this sacred monster of a film.”

Thanks to his invaluable access to the Walt Disney Archives, Kaufman creates an in-depth presentation about Pinocchio. Through artwork, behind-the-scenes photos, and production notes, readers learn about the decisions behind the characters' appearances, the excised story ideas, and the composing of the music. For those curious about the how-to of animation, he reveals the effect techniques conducted by animators, cameramen, and the sound effects crew.

Kaufman “examines the film in detail,” including the telling of fascinating anecdotes about its production (Who knew that Christian Rubb, the voice of Geppetto, was a Nazi sympathizer?), but he doesn't stop there. He goes on to discuss the film's premiere, exhibition, and reception. The book concludes with animation historian Russell Merritt's essay, “Disney's Byzantine Lumber Number” and very informative appendices. Appendix A “is an attempt to compile the most complete possible list of production credits for the film.” This thorough list allows readers to learn who was responsible for creating what elements in the film. Appendix B reveals the musicians and singers involved with the orchestra and chorus on the soundtrack. Appendix C and D offer the further appearances of Figaro the Cat and Jiminy Cricket.

It's fitting that Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic is slightly intimidating in appearance, reminiscent of an upper-level college course’s textbook at 352 pages and weighing nearly five pounds, because it is so wonderfully immersive and informative about all things Disney’s Pinocchio that the reader will walk away enriched as if they took an independent studies course. Highly recommend for Disney fans and those fascinated by how movies get made.

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