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Traumafessions :: Kinderpal Vicar of VHS on Disney’s Pinocchio

October 15th, 2008 by aunt john · 11 Comments

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.

mad mad mad mad movies

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 AbsintheNo Gravatar // Oct 15, 2008 at 7:40 am

    You can always count on Disney to traumatize a child!  Vicar this is also up there on my most hated list of Disney flicks – it is one that I refuse to watch now along with Dumbo.

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Oct 15, 2008 at 8:19 am

    Vicar,

    I am also very surprised that nobody has mentioned this one before. You are not alone though, the clip from youtube that we used was entitled “scariest movie scene ever”. I myself find it really horrifying. The transformations have some kind of primal power and the looks of shock upon the character’s faces are grueling. The dark menacing figures, the salt mine crates, the palpable feeling that you can never return home again, it’s a long way from the light hearted movie my brain has chosen to remember. Thanks for reminding me just how disturbing this movie is!

  • 3 theresnomrpibbNo Gravatar // Oct 15, 2008 at 11:47 am

    This was not the scene from Pinocchio (also on VHS, strangely enough) that frightened the wits out of me for years, though it is terrifying enough in its own right. No, the scene that got me was where Pinocchio and Gepetto get swallowed by the biggest ass whale I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and you think Gepetto is dead. I was smart enough at five to know that, being in the stomach of the whale, they should be getting digested at any moment now. I cried in sheer fright at this scene.

  • 4 LaDraculNo Gravatar // Oct 15, 2008 at 11:56 am

    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.

    I remember reading an interview with Maurice Sendak, who said he felt quite guilty watching this film as a child when his family immigrated to the US from Poland. Maybe that might be a reason why.

    What about Monstro? Although in the game “Kingdom Hearts”, his insides are more bizarre, with trippy colors and Heartless monsters residing inside.

  • 5 FilmFatherNo Gravatar // Oct 15, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Okayyyy…so I’ll be deleting Pinocchio from my TiVo’s Wish List tonight…

    Thanks, Vicar, for bringing this up before I exposed it to my 5- and 2-year-old.

    And Walt Disney? Thanks for nothing. Dick.

  • 6 VicarOfVHSNo Gravatar // Oct 15, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Sorry, FilmFather! But of course the moral of the scene is “Don’t act like a jackass or I’ll sell you to the salt mines,” so maybe that’s a message that more kids these days need to hear. 🙂

    And I know Monstro is one big-ass monster of a whale, but once they’re inside, he’s all spacious and totally livable. Nope, it’s Pleasure Island that gives me the shivers.

  • 7 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Oct 15, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Did you guys ever see the poor mans PINOCHIO? The one where James Earl Jones voices the villain? I saw it on YOU TUBE. If you thought Disney’s PINOCHIO was a freak-out you would LOVE that one! Just as trippy and twice as terrifying (James Earl Jonse’s charactor looks like something off the cover of a DIO album!)

    I think the scene of DISNEY’s PINOCHIO that freaked me out was the whale swallowing them and them teasing us into thinking people were dead. Thats just cruel!

  • 8 LaDraculNo Gravatar // Oct 16, 2008 at 9:44 am

    That was Filmation’s crap-tacular “Pinnochio and the Emperor of the Night” with future “ER” doc/voice  of “American Dad” teen Steve Smith, Scott Grimes, as Pinnochio.

  • 9 FilmFatherNo Gravatar // Oct 16, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Vicar,

    No need to apologize — I was sincerely thankful for your Traumafession. My last line was a dis to the Cryogenically Frozen One himself — for his history of sugarcoated promotions for his films, when they hide such nasties as the one you brought up. (I’m still scarred from the Evil Queen’s transformation in Snow White when I saw it as a child — on the big screen during a re-release, no less.)

    On a side note, I just checked out your blog and loved it; I plan to visit often.

    FF

  • 10 Ryan FerneauNo Gravatar // Nov 19, 2008 at 2:59 am

    Man, did the bad guys in this movie just get away with everything unpunished?  That seems unusual for a Disney movie.

  • 11 cartoon_fan87No Gravatar // Mar 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    I remember watching this in theaters back in ’92 during a re-release when I was five, man the Pleasure Island scene scared me so much I refused to watch it for years, I remember having recurring nightmares where the Coachman would turn my siblings, cousins, and I into donkeys and locked us up in cages.

    They should include the Coachman in one of the Kingdom Hearts games so he finally gets a punishment because he’s one of the only Disney villains who got away with doing horrible deeds, I imagine that those minions of his would be heartless.

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