Today’s entry in my forgotten Disney canon characters project is an extremely sad, depressing, and somewhat gut-wrenching one. We journey now to Disney’s 1940 film, “Pinocchio.” The story is quite known: an old toymaker makes a wish to a star that his wooden model will become a real boy. A fairy makes his wish come true and the model, Pinocchio, comes to life and a cricket is assigned to be his conscience. This is wise as Pinocchio falls prey to many con artists along the way including Foulfellow, Gideon, Stromboli, and the Coachman!

The Coachman turns out to be the most evil of these bad guys. He operates a joint called Pleasure Island in which he lures boys to enter and have the time of their lives. But everything has a price, including this scenario. What the kids don’t know is that the Coachman is a sort of slave trader/child trafficker! How does he manage to transport these boys without being caught? He transforms them into donkeys, of course! How? Umm……that’s not really explained. Maybe he’s poisoned the drinks with a genetically modifying drug, maybe the island itself is an area of witchcraft, etc. Whatever the reason, the boys make jackasses of themselves (literally) and are sold by the Coachman and his men to do inhumane work around the world.

Our hero Pinocchio escapes in time (with the help of his cricket conscience) before transforming completely into a donkey. But, the others are not so lucky. Pinocchio’s friend, Lampwick for example, is last seen maniacally going insane and kicking tables as he discovers his transformation, and who can blame him? But as we get an inside look at the operation, we see the Coachman asking the donkeys their names. If they bray, the transformation process is complete and they’re shipped out in crates; but if they answer in English, it means the transformation hasn’t successfully gone through. One example of the latter is a boy/donkey named Alexander. He cries to the Coachman and pleads for his mother; but the Coachman puts him in a pen of other talking donkeys. You see their insufferable plight and all you can do is feel sorry for them and want to help them from this slavery. But you know there’s nothing you can do about it. The sadder part is we aren’t told what happens to these boys. Are they killed? Do they just wait to be transformed completely? Do any of the boys revert back? We never know.

Maybe the fact that thinking about them is so depressing that that’s why these characters aren’t remembered much. Whatever the reason, you can feel and see the pain and fear in their voices and bodies as they meet their fate. And that’s why they’re my choice for Disney’s “Pinocchio.”

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