Pinocchio's Design: The Portrayal of Nature as Beautiful But Corrosive
By: Domonique Salberg
Since Pinocchio‘s design has been dismissed and underestimated by critics, the potency of his appearance has been overlooked. But if we consider it simply as a graphic design, it could rank among one of Disney’s most potent. And as a depiction of the innocent child, Pinocchio suggests the vitality, resilience, and inscrutability that can hide behind a bashful smile.
Pinocchio’s Original Look
However, before Disney, the first generation of Pinocchio illustrators commonly depicted the character as a Commedia dell’arte clown. Specifically, the style of Carlo Chiostri, where the puppet is an adolescent stick figure, dressed as Pulchinello and accompanied with a perpetually bewildered facial expression. Chiostri illustrated the famous 1901 Italian edition of Pinocchio, which soon after it was released became the standard for the puppet. Facial features are painted onto a firm oval surface, and the only change is applied for varied expressions, while the body remained appropriate for a puppet—neither skeleton nor musculature. It is a look we can see influenced Disney’s wooden boy; though, more importantly, how Chiostri chose to relate Pinocchio to his surroundings and characters lend more to the story’s potency.
Chiostri does so by accentuating the sad strangeness of his Pinocchio by juxtaposing him with the other characters he meets, who are fully modeled human and animal figures. These qualities can be seen in the earliest Disney Pinocchio sketches and the brilliant illustrations of Attilio Mussino, who drew the famous 1911 Italian edition. Building with both Chiostri and Mussino made Disney’s Pinocchio more expressive, contorting his body and facial features. Nonetheless, during development and after, Chiostri’s commedia clown imagery stayed intact. Disney made some apparent changes were Pinocchio’s softened dough hat and a rounder face, but the hard, pointed nose and the stick body were faithful to the original. Disney ultimately wanted to break away from the clown idea only by degrees to find a balance between keeping him wooden and not human.
Mickey Mouse Influences
Doing so, it developed a fascinating design—a unique combination of hard wooden surfaces and malleable human flesh. At a glance, Pinocchio appears akin to Micky Mouse by way of his saucer eyes, the dimples, the wide baby mouth, and Mickey’s broad cheek and jaw, large white gloves, and oversized shoes. However, the true surprise and uniqueness of Pinocchio’s design are rooted in his varying facial expressions. When he smiles or frowns, the small baby-like lower lip comes into play to give him a babyish pout.
Then when he opens the mouth wide for a laugh or scream, suddenly the mouth pivots marionette-like, making a rectangle that changes the face into puppet grotesque. Another key element is his famous nose and the arrangement of his facial expressions. His head is designed so that every feature can be stretched, squashed, or crinkled. Although, most of Pinocchio’s distinguishable presence comes from his nose and is best illustrated at the end when it is replaced with a little boy’s snub nose while every other feature remains the same.
Disney’s Commentary on Growth and Maturing
An even more disturbing example is the subtly disguised portrait of real-life changes—male puberty—in an unbearable nightmarish transformation into a donkey. Pinocchio’s voice changes, large ears appear, and he grows a tail. All of these physical transformations are similar to the undesirable physical changes associated with coming of age. By effect, the film becomes a dynamic tension between Pinocchio’s enthusiasm for growing up and the story’s loathing of development and growth. Furthermore, what comes with growth is inevitably death, in which the film ultimately portrays nature as beautiful but corrosive.