Go back to the Collodi page for more texts and other resources.

The Evolution of Pinocchio

A look at the different syles of Fairy Tales over the last century

Arguably one of the most famous children?s stories of all time, Carlo Collodi?s Pinocchio of 1883 gave rise to one of the most revisited fairytales ever. What is interesting about researching Pinocchio is that even though the original was meant to represent Italian nationalism, each version has evolved further and further away from the original storyline. Most recently, Walt Disney decided to adapt the story for American culture in 1940 when he gave the film to the English-speaking world. Until recently, I had no prior knowledge that Pinocchio had been an Italian fairytale and brought to me when I was about ten years old as an adaptation. Historically, one can rightfully ask the question of why does western civilization seem to want to turn these adult stories, into children?s sugar coated fairytales? Stories such as Beauty and the Beast in their earliest form are hardly what I was being shown in preschool. Instead, I was exposed to Cinderella, the Smurfs, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Robin Hood, The Sword in the Stone, and Pinocchio, in their cartoon versions of course. So what happened to the original story of Pinocchio being a ?bad good boy? and learning his lesson in the end? Why wasn?t I shown the beast in Beauty and the Beast as a real live flesh eating ugly man? The evolution of the fairytale is interesting because it revolves around a changing world ideology. No longer do mothers want their children being exposed to violence and harsh reality at a young age. Instead, they choose to replace real wooden puppets with Teletubbies. This paradigm shift in culture has to do with more than merely Walt Disney; the subliminal messages that children are learning presently are sexually discriminative, bias and sociologically unacceptable. By exploring the reasons why fairytales have gone in the direction they have, the resulting changes in culture will not be so surprising.
Pinocchio to me was never a story of a child that was overly curious or sociologically ?bad?. His desire to become a real boy and leave the metaphorical Neverland, with the help of his friend Jiminy Cricket, was intriguing. Pinocchio was a story of a boys life without limits. Even when Pinocchio was made out of wood I still viewed him as a real boy. His struggles that he regularly dealt with as an outsider, being made of wood, I empathized with because I related to him. Every child longs for acceptance and the ability to be just like the rest, which one could deduce is why he goes through his struggle to become a real boy. Although, after much research and close readings of both the Disney version and the Collodi version, I am starting to believe that I was misled. The question that took a multiplicity of shapes was the two-headed beast of what the movie is portraying though animated production, and what the movie is actually telling children. Alasdair MacIntyre writes,
It is through hearing stories about wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world and eldest sons who waste their inheritance..., that children learn or mislearn what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are. Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words. (MacIntyre, 216)
Being a child that was raised by a Portuguese nanny because of my mother and father?s intense work schedule, I was often set in front of the one television set in our small home in Bermuda. The nanny was not really there to talk to me and teach me the ways of the world, but rather to watch over me to make sure I did not kill myself. Consequently, I had to, as many of my peers most probably had to, learn the ways of the world for myself. Since I was not allowed to go outside the television was my best friend, and the toy figurines that were in the movie or show that I was watching were right by my side so I could play along with the action. The TV was effectively a brain washing technique that I subjected myself to in order to entertain myself and have something to base my human existence off of. Children are very impressionable beings in that what ever they see on TV is usually what they consider reality to be. Was anybody there to tell me at a young age not to believe everything you see on TV? No.
The psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim gave this stance of fantasy twenty years ago with his publication of The Uses of Enchantment. The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, ?It hardly requires emphasis at this moment in our history? (Bettelheim P.5) Bettelheim wrote, that children need ?a moral education... (that teaches) not through abstract ethical concepts but through that which seems tangibly right and therefore meaningful.... The child finds this kind of meaning through fairy tales.?(5) Vigen Gurioian, a professor at Loyola Merryland who studies the effects of fair tales says on society says similarily to Bettelheim,
Fairy tale and modern fantasy stories project fantastic other worlds; but they also pay close attention to real moral "laws" of character and virtue. By portraying wonderful and frightening worlds in which ugly beasts are transformed into princes and evil persons are turned to stones and good persons back to flesh, fairy tales remind us of moral truths whose ultimate claims to normativity and permanence we would not think of questioning ? The notion that fairy tales and fantasy stories stimulate and instruct the moral imagination of the young is, of course, not new. They (Parents) need, and are asking for direction in how to influence the moral character of the young. (Gurioian, 195)
So if we take this quote to be perfect science, which by no means I am saying it is, cartoons or fair tales and fantasy movies were a way to help with my growth of character and to teach me values, ethics, and how to be virtuous. For parents then, what a revolutionary technique cartooning turned out to be. Cartoons, GI Joes, and mothers nipple; the single most important instruments to pacify a young boy before he is sent off to school at age five. If we take the three examples listed above for truth, which they were for me, then the three forces that impacted my life the most when I was a young boy were; violence, created by the GI Joes, my mother through her beast feeding, and all of the mindless hours of Disney that I watched. So if these were the most important factors in my life, one would naturally ask, where am I now? At the ripe age of 21 I have an unusually large attraction to war simulating and fighting video gaming, I believe that the male in a relationship is suppose to be the one that rides in on his white house and saves the girl who is metaphorically stuck in her castle, as Repunsel was, that one cannot be an outside because outsiders are rejected by society, I have to be big and strong, and money is power. On my family side, I have a significantly better relationship with my mother than I do my father, but this is mainly due to the fact that mother was there for nurturing and father was there for spanking. Naturally, I was more attracted to my mother because in her eyes I could do no wrong.
Now keeping Pinocchio in mind and going back to the original question of why did Pinocchio go through the extensive face lift that it did before Disney decided to release it to North America, we should look at some of the differences in each version of Pinocchio that make the stories representative of the times of their release. Italy is by nature a communist society that punishes severely for failure to conform, and rewards success accordingly. In the original release of Pinocchio, Collodi hangs Pinocchio from a tree to end the story. Now, I highly doubt that if little children were being hung in Disney?s version, my mother would have not been at all pleased that I was being taught that essentially, if you screw up you die. Consequently, Collodi probably also realized this concept and sugar coated the ending a little to make it more manageable for his younger audience. Still though, Collodi?s version is very firm in its stance about teaching values, virtue and lessons that come across much more harsh then that of Disney. The specific example that comes to mind is the scene when Pinocchio goes to the sea to rescue Gepetto. Patricia Lee Gauch, a columnist for the Horn Book Magazine writes,
The belly in literature is a dark, ambiguous environment. It is at moments an infinitely safe place, but at times an infinitely perilous place. It is Dante's inferno. It is Milton's hell. But it is also the rabbit hole in Alice's Wonderland. The den in Watership Down. It is a chaotic upside-down world, where the character "free falls," having nothing to hang on to except his own will, his own determination to transcend; to create enough order in the chaos to escape. It is where the character faces himself. (Gaunch, 294)

This is one scene that drastically differs in the two versions of Pinocchio. This quote here is written in response to Collodi?s version in regards to how Pinocchio becomes a real live boy. Gaunch?s argument is that it is only by going to the depths of the sea into the belly of the beast, that Pinocchio is able to metaphorically ?face himself? and become a real boy. If the over riding theme of Pinocchio is his quest to become a real boy, then this scene would be extremely important. Although, this is where I find the most differentiating avenues of Collodi and Disney. Disney?s big scene to me is when Pinocchio travels on the boat to Pleasure Island and turns himself into an ass. While Pinocchio is off in Pleasure Island being an ?ass,? Gepetto is out looking for his prodigal son and is swallowed by a whale. It is Pinocchio?s transformation from Puppett to Donkey, back to Puppett that allows him to see the truth; that becoming a real boy and fitting in, is not as important as the love of your father, Gepetto. Thus, because Pinocchio is able to come to this realization, he is given his wish and turned into a real boy. Collodi, alternatively, uses the transformation from puppet to real boy as the passage from boy to adult in the scene of going down into the whale, facing his fears and being a man about the whole endeavor and facing himself much like Neo does in The Matrix. The only way Neo is able to defeat Mr. Smith is by facing himself and accepting his destiny. The overriding determining factor in all historic hero stories is what will the hero do when he is faced with his great challenge. Neo must go into Mr. Smith, his nemesis, to save the world, as Pinocchio must travel inside the whale to signify that he is worthy of becoming a man.
The Collodi version is much different than the Disney version then in terms of the messages they are trying to convey. So why did this change occur? Why does Disney change the qualifications of becoming a ?real boy?? To understand this we need to look at what exactly virtue and value is and how they pertain to the two very different societies that the authors were writing in. American society in the 40s probably had a slightly different definition of what was meant by being virtuous and having good values. By showing me the Americanized version of Pinocchio when I was young, my mother instilled in me what Walt Disney perceived as good values and what was meant by being a virtuous boy. Accordingly, the Disney fairy tales essentially encompass completely my moral being as a male. Gurioian writes,
The virtues define the character of a person, his enduring relationship to the world, and what will be his end. Whereas, values, according to their common usage, are the instruments or components of moral living that the self chooses for itself and that the self may disregard without necessarily jeopardizing its identity. Accordingly, values are subordinate and relative to the self's own autonomy, which is understood as the self's highest value and essential quality?(Guroian,192)

At the tender age of four when I was being shown these Disney film, was I really expected to know the difference between these two very complex terms of identity? The movies were merely pushed into the VHS player and I was enveloped in a world of fantasy. The Disney series can be seen as a way to teach kids the ways of the world. Beauty and the Beast was always a movies that did not sit well with me because although I though it was clever that there were talking tea cups and such, I did not see myself as a Beast so I did not see the relevance of the movie. Thus it was not one of my favorites. Although, if we look at the film as being directed to the female population made by men to instill in young girls what is meant by a virtuous woman, the fogginess surrounding the this movie seems to clear. The philosophy of virtue and value in Beauty and the Beast is talked about earlier in the Guroian text,
Because she (Beauty) is virtuous, she is able to "see" the virtues in Beast that lie hidden beneath his monstrous appearance. At her first supper in the monster's castle, Beauty says to Beast: "That is true [I find you ugly], ...for I cannot lie, but I believe you are very good-natured." And when Beast tries her the more with his repeated self-deprecatory remarks, Beauty responds emphatically: "Among mankind ... there are many that deserve that name [Beast] more than you, and I prefer you, just as you are, to those, who, under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart." The sharp contrast between Beauty's goodness and her sisters' badness, which is masked by their physical attractiveness, parallels the irony that the Beast who is repulsive physically is good and virtuous. "Beauty and the Beast" teaches the simple but important lesson that appearances can be deceptive, that what is seen is not always what it appears to be. (Gurioian,190)

The above picture here is an example of a young girl obviously flipping though picture storybooks reading fantasy alone, developing her views of the world. Its pertains to the preceding quote because as much as I agree with the quote, the virtuousness talked about here is that as much as the Beast is really a virtuous man for being who he is under his beastly skin, Beauty is seen as twice as virtuous because she is able to disregard the appearance of the Beast. The message being sent to young girls here is more sickening than that of the message being portrayed in Collodi?s Pinocchio. Is it somehow ok that boys are being told in Disney?s Pinocchio that one can be bad as long as one remembers the things that are really important, like family and love? While girls are being taught in Disney?s Beauty and the Beast that women are to be accepting of vice in men and all they have to do in this world is look pretty and take care of their ?Beast?? No wonder why girls read Vanity Fair and guys read Sports Illustrated, both genders are instilled at a very young age much different sets of values and means of being virtuous. While boys are running around lifting weights and trying to become as big and strong as physically possible, girls are spending equally as much or more time in front of the mirror trying to make them selves cosmetically appealing to their male pursuers.
Why is it that men and women are taught these different lessons in life, and why is it sociologically expectable? Girls are taught to be submissive and selfless, while men are taught to become bread winners and leaders of the house. The evolution of Pinocchio is crucial to the understanding of the fantasy industry because Pinocchio fully exemplifies how culture has evolved. Culture has gone from, ?love freely given is better than obedience that is coerced?(Gurioian, 193). In much of the modern fairy tales, ?courage that rescues the innocent is noble; whereas, cowardice that betrays others for self-gain or self-preservation is worthy only of disdain. Fairy tales say plainly that virtue and vice are opposites and not just a matter of degree. They show us that the virtues fit into character and complete our world in the same way that goodness naturally fills all things?(Gurioian, 193). Another way to put this would be that our Western ideology of the upbringing of children has move to ?spare the rod, spoil the child.?
Is one way of bringing up a child better than the other? Were children growing up in the 1890?s that much more worse off because they had to read Pinocchio in a different light? Funny how the evolution of Pinocchio is so extreme yet films such as Beauty and the Beast are essentially the same. Girls are being brought up watching much the same movies as they were in the 1940s before women could actually vote. Although recently movies such as Shrek portray women as having slightly more power in their life, this blockbuster hit follows much the same guidelines of Beauty and the Beast. When will this issue of the ?Snow White Complex?, I will call it, go through the evolutionary process that ?Pinocchio Complex? did? The subliminal messages that children are learning these days as parents work longer hours and spend less and less times with their kids allows these movies to have a much greater impact on the lives of adolescents then I would argue ever has before. The TV in most households is like a family member and the average American family would most likely go through some form of withdrawal without it. As television and the use of cartoons to teach children increases, levels in awareness of reality in children will drop. This is important because if the levels in awareness drop, children will be ill prepared in the future to handle the brutality of reality. Children these days find it so strange that there are people just like them in Bosnia starving, and have been starving for centuries. While I would agree that blinding children from the harsh reality of the world that is, one can hardly imagine much of the subliminal messages that are being subconsciously being imprinted on the minds of modern day youth is hardly helpful.


Bettelheim Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment, New York, Alfred A. Knopf Press Inc., 1975.

Gauch Patricia Lee.? The Horn Book Magazine, In the belly of the whale,
Volume 73 n3, May-June (1997). p294.

Giacometti Alberto, Nose, (1947)- Picture on title page.
Guroian Vigen, Awakening the Moral Imagination, Teaching Virtues Through Fairy Tales, The Intercollegiate Review, Fall, (1996).
MacIntyre Alasdair, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd Edition, Notre Dame, IN, University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.

Authors | Quotes | Digests | Submit | Interact | Store

Copyright © Classics Network. Contact Us