December 13, 2015 posted by

Pinocchio in Animation – Part 3

Pinocchio’s Christmas, directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. 49 minutes. December 3, 1980.

pinocchio-christmasThis was a one-hour Christmas TV special, produced for Rankin/Bass Productions in Japan in stop-motion. Rankin/Bass’ Japanese cell-animation producers have been well-documented, but the only one mentioned for the Animagic stop-motion animation is Dentsu Studios, with actual production by Tadahito Mochinaga and his crew. R/B’s regulars Romeo Muller wrote the story and Maury Laws wrote the music; and among the notable voice actors were Alan King, Ray Owens, and Paul Frees. It is shown annually on ABC-TV.

Pinocchio (in his puppet form; voiced by Todd Porter) wants to give Gepetto (voiced by George S. Irving) a Christmas present, after Gepetto gives him a present of an arithmetic book for school. He sells the book to buy a present, but the Fox and Cat trick him out of the money. He joins Maestro Fire-Eater’s Christmas marionette show for more money, but he falls in love with Julietta, a beautiful girl marionette, and, learning that the Fire-Eater plans to re-carve her into an old man, he steals her and takes her into the Forest of Enchantment to become a real girl. There he meets Lady Azura, the fairy who planted the tree that he was carved from (Azura = azure = the Blue Fairy; get it?), and “Dr. Cricket”, who teach him that the Real Meaning of Christmas isn’t about presents.

But he’s waylaid by the Fox and Cat again, who sell him to a Duke’s servant as a Christmas present for the Duke’s children. Dr. Cricket releases him from his “do not open until Xmas” box, and he uses his lesson about the Real Meaning of Christmas to convince the haughty Duke (‘Christmas presents do not talk back to nobility!”) that his children want to spend more time with him, not get presents from him. This brings Pinocchio to the attention of Santa Claus, who uses his reindeer to take Pinocchio home to Gepetto. The ending is a Christmas party in Gepetto’s threadbare shop, which Lady Azura and Julietta, now a live puppet like Pinocchio, attend.

Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, directed by Hal Sutherland. 87 minutes. December 25, 1987.

Pinocchio_and_Emperor_of_the_NightFilmation Associates was created in 1962 as a TV animation studio, and became notorious for the poor quality of its limited animation. It produced a few theatrical features such as Journey Back To Oz and He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword, but as spinoffs of its more popular TV series. Then in 1987, shortly before its 1989 demise, Filmation announced that it was about to undertake a long series of theatrical features; original sequels to well-known (public domain) tales – all of which just happened to have been filmed as Walt Disney animated features. Disney sued, but lost; they were all public-domain classics, so there was nothing stopping anyone from creating original sequels as long as any copyrighted original elements were not used (in the case of Disney’s Pinocchio, the name of Jiminy Cricket for the Talking Cricket, and characters like Figaro the kitten and Cleo the goldfish).

As it happened, Filmation was bought out from under its creator, Lou Scheimer (despite his protests), and shut down. The only one of its fairy-tale theatrical sequels finished was Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. (The second, its sequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs titled Happily Ever After, had been started and was finished after Filmation’s demise, and was released in 1993.)

pinocchio250 -1Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night is different in that Pinocchio is a real boy at first, and keeps changing between a wooden and a real boy. In a prologue, a sleeping stuffy British bumblebee, Lieut. Grumblebee, is awoken at night by a sinister ship putting ashore and magically unfurling Puppetino’s circus. Cut to Gepetto’s shop, now alone in a cottage in a forest, where Pinocchio is about to have his first-birthday-as-a-real-boy party. (Disney’s Figaro the kitten and Cleo the goldfish are replaced by Bee-Atrice the canary.) Pinocchio wishes that “his Fairy Godmother” (who is blue) could be there, and she appears to tell him in song that it’s his “freedom of choice that has made him a real boy. He has carved a glowbug which she secretly brings to life to be his conscience.

Gepetto has to interrupt Pinocchio’s party to deliver a valuable jewel box to the mayor. Pinocchio begs to be allowed to deliver it. Gepetto agrees, after making Pinocchio promise to go straight to the mayor’s home and straight back. On the way Pinocchio is tempted to make a side trip to Puppetino’s circus, but the glowbug reminds him of his promise. Pinocchio’s habit of frequently saying “Gee Willikers!” gives the glowbug his name.

gee-wilikersThe movie cuts to another road where this movie’s Fox & Cat, Scalawag the raccoon and Igor the monkey, are running a crooked shell game. They are exposed and are chased by an angry crowd into Pinocchio. After Igor traps Gee Willikers under one of Scalawag’s shells, they cheat Pinocchio out of the jewel box by trading it for a fake “Pharaoh’s ruby”.

Gepetto is furious. Pinocchio, heartbroken, decides to never disappoint him again by running away (without Gee Willikers, who he doesn’t want to put into danger). He looks for work at Puppetino’s circus, where he falls in love with Twinkle, a beautiful girl marionette. Puppetino recognizes Pinocchio as a former puppet and uses his magic over puppets to turn him into a regular puppet.

Gee Willikers escapes from Gepetto’s cottage and goes to look for Pinocchio, freeing Lieut. Grumblebee from a spiderweb on the way. The glowbug finds Pinocchio as a lifeless puppet in Puppetino’s wagon. His grief brings the Fairy Godmother, who explains that Pinocchio lost his life because he took his freedom for granted. She turns Pinocchio back to a living puppet. The lying-and-nose-growing scene occurs here. Pinocchio is repentant and she turns him all the way back to a real boy. Gee Willikers wants to return to Gepetto’s, but Pinocchio decides to “become responsible” and get the jewel box back; again without Gee Willikers to protect him.

pinocchio_and_scalawagThe circus has returned to the sinister ship. While Pinocchio searches for it, he runs into Scalawag and Igor again. They offer to direct him to the ship, while really planning to return him to Puppetino for a reward. Puppetino is revealed to be a servant for a worse master villain.

Gee Willikers escapes again, saves Lieut. Grumblebee again, and gets Grumblebee to help him search for Pinocchio. Grumblebee takes him to Bugzburg to get the other bugs’ help. They arrive just in time to save Bugzburg from an evil giant frog. The grateful whole town promises to help find Pinocchio. This whole sequence leads to nothing, and was only included as a preview of an intended Filmation TV series, Bugzburg, that was never finished due to Filmation’s 1989 closing.

Pinocchio, Scalawag, and Igor sail down the river on a paddlewheel boat after the sinister ship. The two crooks, fishing while Pinocchio stokes the paddlewheel’s furnace, are pulled into the river by a giant barracuda(?) that tries to eat them. Pinocchio saves them “because you’re my friends”. The raccoon and monkey, remorseful, are about to change their minds and save Pinocchio from Puppetino, but it’s too late; they reach and are swallowed up by the whalelike sinister ship, Empire of the Night, owned by Puppetino’s master, the Emperor of the Night. Grumblebee and Gee Willikers arrive just as the paddlewheel is being drawn into the ship, and Gee Willikers stows away in Pinocchio’s pocket.

pinocchio-night2-600The long climax inside the Empire of the Night is a combination of the Pleasure Island and Monstro the Whale sequences from the Disney movie. Pinocchio is separated from Scalawag and Igor, and led into the ship by a gondolier to the Land Where Dreams Come True (Pleasure Island). He enters the Neon Cabaret whose doorman promises that he will become its star, if he promises to sign a contract when he leaves. The Cabaret is full of partying children who have “all the toys they want”. Pinocchio drinks a green beer-like drink that makes him have hallucinations and fall unconscious. He awakens on a stage, where a circus ringmaster says that his fans, including Twinkle, are waiting for him to perform. Pinocchio dances, while Scalawag and Igor try to warn him but fall victim to the spell.

Pinocchio finishes dancing to great applause, but when he rises from his bow, he finds Puppetino who reveals that all the children have been his marionettes. The gondolier, doorman, and ringmaster appear and all metamorph into the Emperor of the Night: a huge, four-armed demon who tells Pinocchio that the time has come to sign his contract and become a live puppet again. It’s all been a plot to weaken the Fairy Godmother. Pinocchio refuses to sign, but the Emperor shows him that he has captured Gepetto, reduced him to tiny size, and imprisoned him in the jewel box. Pinocchio agrees to sign if the Emperor will release Gepetto, Scalawag, and Igor. He turns back into a live puppet. But the Emperor reneges on his promise to free the others. Pinocchio declares himself to be the Emperor’s enemy, and becomes surrounded in a blue aura that protects him from the Emperor’s flamebolts. Pinocchio and Gee Willikers escape with the jewel box and Gepetto, and the two scoundrels, while the Emperor’s flamebolts have set the ship on fire. They find the entrance to the Cabaret closed by a huge door. Pinocchio deliberately tells lies, causing his nose to grow long enough to open the door so they can escape from the burning ship.

On the shore, Pinocchio tells truthful statements to reduce his nose. The Fairy Godmother/Good Fairy appears to restore Gepetto to full size and make Pinocchio a real boy again. The raccoon and monkey swear that they have really reformed. Twinkle, as a real girl, awakens nearby. They all go to Gepetto’s cottage to resume Pinocchio’s birthday party.

The Emperor of the Night

The Emperor of the Night

Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night was at least a reasonable sequel, as opposed to a completely new story like Pinocchio in Outer Space. But it was an obvious sequel to Disney’s 1940 movie, not to Collodi’s original story, despite showing any of the original Disney-copyrighted touches. It was produced in, if not theatrical-quality animation, better than TV-quality animation, and avoided Filmation’s notorious reuse of animated cycles. But it was too late to overcome Filmation’s reputation for bottom-quality TV limited animation. It was a monumental bomb. It cost $10,000,000 to produce, but only made $3,200,000 during its entire run. Its financial failure was largely responsible for Filmation’s sale and closure less than two years later.


  • “Pinocchio’s Christmas” is my nod to the Christmas season this year. My Christmas columns in 2013 and 2014 used up most of the Christmas animated shorts

  • Paul Frees wasn’t in “Pinocchio’s Christmas.” That special used New York actors like Bob McFadden and Allen Swift.

    • And George S. Irwin as Geppetto.
      I don’t think that Paul Frees was involved in any Rankin Bass productions in the 1980’s.

    • According to Wikipedia, Paul Frees was supposedly cast as the voices of Santa Claus, The Sleigh Driver (who oddly sounded more like the voice of Bob McFadden) and Mr. Cherry. But in IMDb Paul Frees wasn’t in the cast of Pinocchio Christmas.

  • Oh, yeah. Forgot about Filmation’s “Pinocchio” film. At least they didn’t attempt to do a “Fantasia” type film.

  • Referring to “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night”: I’m almost ashamed to even admit this, that scene of Grumblebee at the 2:44 mark where he says “Ashamed to show themselves, no doubt!” was animated my me. ughs!

    Animated a few other scenes in this too.

    However going by a hazy memory, this was animated way before 1987. More like mid eighties, 84/85. Not something really worth remembering.

    • Lou Scheimer is quoted in a December 1987 newspaper article (Wikipedia reference 4) that the movie had been 4 1/2 years in production, so that could explain your remembering working on it in the mid-eighties.

    • Referring to “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night”: I’m almost ashamed to even admit this, that scene of Grumblebee at the 2:44 mark where he says “Ashamed to show themselves, no doubt!” was animated my me. ughs!

      I’m sure you’re not the only one. There’s plenty of notable guys who actually had a hand on this one I’ve noticed like Mike Kazeleh, Tom Sito, Will Finn and others.

      Lou Scheimer is quoted in a December 1987 newspaper article (Wikipedia reference 4) that the movie had been 4 1/2 years in production, so that could explain your remembering working on it in the mid-eighties.

      It would take that long to make a feature so that’s pretty normal. Reminded the film ends with a deciation to two Filmation staffers that didn’t live to see it’s completion (one of which managed to get an additional credit for Layout Supervision since I guess he got first-hand glimpse at the work that was being turned in).

    • Pat is right. The Filmation Pinocchio movie was done earlier than ’87. I worked on it in ’85 and ’86, and production was wrapped up by summer of ’86. While Pinocchio was winding down, production started on the Snow White picture. That was released well after it was finished, a couple of years after Filmation was shut down.

      My 30 year old recollection of the situation was that Filmation was making a lot of money from “He-Man,” and put some of the money into the feature projects for a tax break. Originally a slate of 12 films were planned, but only two got made. What led to parent company Westinghouse putting Filmation up for sale was the lower than expected revenue from “Bravestarr.” By the time that show hit the airwaves, the daily syndication market had been badly glutted. I went back to work at Filmation later, and we were, in fact, very busy with a new TV show (“Bugzburgh”- based on the bugs from the Pinocchio movie) when new owner L’oriel shut the studio down.

    • Did you have anything to do with the notorious Puppetino scene?

  • On Pinocchio’s Christmas there was a running gag involving the Fox and the Cat (The Fox was a male and the cat was female and were dressed as Gypsies) when the Fox told Pinocchio “if I’m lying may lightning strike me!” But it was poor Cat who gets fried by the Zot Bolts and in one scene she ran shrieking like a banshee hopping into a barrel and a minute later was giggling thinking that the Zot Bolt didn’t fried her then…..ZOT!!!!!!! The Zot Bolt got her again! Ouch!

    And on Pinocchio and The Emperor of the Night indeed there was a whole lot of changes in this version of the story of Pinocchio, a wooden bug named Gee Willikers (Don Knotts) replacing the Cricket, A Raccoon (Ed Asner) and a monkey with a Middle Eastern accent (Frank Welker) replacing the Fox and Cat and a Scary Chenoburg like character as the villain.

    Of course that’s when Filmation was struggling after the fiasco involving Columbia Pictures over the Ghostbusters name (they had a live action version back in the 1970’s and Columbia had the hit film – which was later animated by DIC by way of Toei Animation of Japan) and decided to animate their version with the sons of the original 1970’s version and Columbia did theirs based on the movie and called it The Real Ghostbusters. The result Columbia’s version was a mega hit while Filmation’s version “fell flatter that a hot glass of root beer on a 110 F summer day”. And with Disney threating to sue Filmation for infringement on their version of Pinocchio, and P.A.T.E.O.T.N. failing in the box office, that was literally “The Nail of the Coffin” for Filmation Studios.

    P.S. There was one significant Pinocchio cartoon that came out as part of Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales series entitled Pinocchio involving Geppetto wanting Pinocchio to star on a TV variety show of his own after he came to life. Starring Bill Scott as Geppetto, Daws Butler as Pinocchio and June Foray as a very ditzy fairy.

  • There was two other animated features that Filmation did after Journey Back to Oz, one was Treasure Island with Davy Jones as Jim Hawkins and Oliver Twist also starring Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger. What’s interesting is that the instrumental incidental music from Oliver Twist was also used in The Fat Albert Christmas Special.

  • If you can’t beat ’em … A few decades later Disney gave us “The Great and Powerful Oz”, which not only referenced the MGM classic with surprising moxie, but was part of a wave of Oz-related projects that seemed to be responses to the success of the stage musical “Wicked.”

    Wondering if Filmation’s legal victory inspired the later wave of direct-to-VHS knockoffs, from old films repackaged to suggest big studio titles to new films that grabbed the same PD source or a non-protectable element.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *