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