Last time on Disney’s Musical Theatre we discussed the feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and it’s musical history. Now, we are looking at the second film from the animation studio, Pinocchio. Not only is Pinocchio one of my favorite films, but it features a soundtrack which evokes that “Disney magic” feeling than any other. The music for Pinocchio was composed almost solely by Leigh Harline, who also contributed to the music for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The film opens in traditional storybook fashion with Jiminy Cricket singing the most famous song in the film and, arguably, Disney history: “When You Wish Upon a Star”. This quintessentially Disney song was written for the film but has had many other uses in Disney properties throughout the years. Between closing out Walt’s weekly show or being a staple at the parks, this song represents something childlike in all of us and, without fail, always brings out the feelings of nostalgia. In the film, however, it signifies Geppetto’s wish for a son.
The second song, though shorter, is also beautiful. Titled “Little Wooden Head”, this is the music that plays from the music box while Geppetto is puppeteering Pinocchio. Several lyrics were written for Geppetto to sing, but only one verse wound up in the film. Strangely, this verse is often cut out of the soundtrack versions which usually are solely instrumental.
The next song is called “Give a Little Whistle” and is sung by Jiminy Cricket where he takes on the role of Pinocchio’s conscience. By simultaneously teaching Pinocchio how to whistle and ask for help, this fun little number sets up the rest of the film and drives home the theme of doing what’s right and listening to your conscience.
“Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me)” is another classic song from the film and one that can often be heard at Disneyland as well. This is one of the earliest examples of a Disney villain song, though is quite different than most of the villain songs in recent years. Rather than being dark or foreboding, this is an upbeat song and is only villainous because it serves as an antithesis to Jiminy Cricket as Honest John tempts Pinocchio to turn away from all of the good things he has learned so far.
The final song in the film (apart from a reprise of “When You Wish Upon a Star”) is “I’ve Got No Strings” which Pinocchio sings during his marionette show by Stromboli. This diegetic song happens within the narrative as part of a ploy by Stromboli to make a quick buck by showcasing his new find, Pinocchio. As the title implies, this song exists to impress the audience attending this marionette show by proving that this wooden boy has no strings and can move and act on his own.
The music of Pinocchio is a joy to listen to within the context of the film and also just on its own. Its timelessness has been proven time and time again by its many appearances in other media since the original film debuted in 1940.
Next time, we are going to look at deleted songs from the film, the television musical Geppetto, and the stage adaptations that have been created in recent years.
Kaufman, J. B. Pinocchio: the Making of the Disney Epic. The Walt Disney Family Foundation Press, 2015.