I had to search your site TWICE for this one, so amazed was I that no one had brought it up yet…
There’s no shortage of traumatic Disney moments. Everybody’s traumatized by the Evil Queen in SNOW WHITE, by DUMBO‘s separation from his mom, by the Death of Mrs. BAMBI, and by the sheer FACT of PETE’S DRAGON, but one extremely traumatic Disney moment that seems to get short shrift is one that caused no end of nightmares for the Lil’ Vicar, the “Pleasure Island” sequence from PINOCCHIO.
You remember the set-up–after being tempted off the straight-and-narrow by that sly, conniving Fox, PINOCCHIO joins a boatload of other wayward boys on a trip to Pleasure Island, a bad boy’s paradise where everything that grown-ups won’t let you do is not only allowed, but encouraged. PINOCCHIO and his friends gorge on sweets, smoke cigars, play cards, fight, break glass, drink beer (maybe it’s meant to be root beer, but that’s not how I remember it) and gleefully break every rule they can think of, basking in the glow of completely unsupervised freedom.
It all seems pretty great until PINOCCHIO, green from smoking stogies and sick on sweets, listens to one of his pals waxing poetic on the wonders of being bad. The boy lets out a long, boisterous laugh that, in mid-guffaw, becomes the bray of a donkey! His bravado suddenly gone, the boy brays again, this time in terror, as his hands curl into hoofs, his ears elongate, his snout grows, and he transforms horrifyingly into a little, LITERAL jackass! The editing, animation, and sound design here is bad enough (terrified by what’s happening to him, the tough boy starts wailing pitifully for a mother who ISN’T THERE before the last bit of his humanity disappears and with it his power of speech), but then the same thing starts to happen to all the OTHER boys on Pleasure Island, paradise suddenly transformed into a Boschian Body-Horror HELL! Not content to let that horror suffice, the Disney team turns the screw further by having faceless brutish toughs round up the boys onto cattle carts (Holocaust imagery! Great for the whole family!) to be sold either into hard labor or to the glue factory. As the train pulls away, the jackasses that once were boys can be seen weeping helplessly, the victims of their own uncontrolled appetites and, presumably, lax parenting.
The now donkey-eared PINOCCHIO manages to escape with Jiminy Cricket’s help, and later has to face the larger horror of Monstro the Whale; but for me as a kid, that was a cakewalk compared to the horror, helplessness, and horrible separation from one’s loved ones depicted in the terrifying “Pleasure Island” segment. I’m even a little shaky writing about it now, more than thirty years later!
DAMN YOU DISNEY! Even THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON didn’t do THIS to me!
AUNTIE SEZ: Thanks for sharing Vicar! Kids, be sure to visit the Vicar of VHS at his virtual Pleasure Island, a.k.a. Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, where bad behavior is most definitely encouraged and will NOT cause jackass ears to sprout from your impressionable heads.