- Pinocchio Goes Postmodern: Perils of a Puppet in the United States
For this entry in its series "Children's Literature and Culture," we owe Routledge special thanks. Editor Jack Zipes has persuaded the two preeminent Pinocchio scholars in the United States to gather the fruits of their twenty years of collaborative research on Pinocchio into a history of the Tuscan puppet's fate on our shores. Wunderlich and Morrissey's love for Collodi's novel, their exhaustive research, and their wit combine in a scholarly, affectionate study that illuminates not only Pinocchio but some fundamental elements of twentieth-century American children's culture.
Wunderlich and Morrissey have divided the work equally, doing the bulk of the writing in four chapters each. Morrissey provides the first chapter's overview of the subject and the closing three chapters on recent versions of the Pinocchio story. Wunderlich contributes the middle four chapters tracing the reception, translations, adaptations, revisions, and perversions of the Pinocchio story in the United States from 1892 to 2000—work he undertook for the preparation of his 1988 Pinocchio Catalogue (Greenwood), in which he documented every American version he could find. The present study expands that work with new discoveries; perhaps an updated Catalogue will follow soon.
The question that drives the book is this: Why did Collodi's Pinocchio, so popular in the United States in the [End Page 235] early years of the twentieth century, undergo such radical changes that, today, it has been completely eclipsed by adaptations of it? Wunderlich and Morrissey begin their answer with a close examination of Collodi and his work, deciding that "Despite all the magic, Pinocchio is a realistic novel" (23), because Collodi aimed to depict the world and childhood as he—a rebel and political satirist—perceived them. "There is not a single competent, compassionate, or decent civil authority figure in the novel" (23)—not unlike the adults in the Harry Potter series, a comparison Wunderlich and Morrissey make more than once. And Collodi did not pretend that childhood was a steady advancement toward integrated adulthood. He had too much respect for children to perpetrate such a fantasy.
For more than forty years after the puppet's arrival in America, the reading public knew and celebrated Collodi's Pinocchio. There were adaptations, of course, and so many reprints with different versions of the title that Collodi's story took on the appearance of folklore. Adaptations for school-book publishers tended to downplay the wild slapstick of the original in favor of what the puppet learned, or was supposed to learn, from his adventures. Nevertheless, Wunderlich and Morrissey call the 1930s Pinocchio's "Golden Age", when he was an "icon and a hot commodity" (85-86).
And yet—in only three years, 1937-1939, Collodi's puppet began to disappear, and in his place a new icon of childhood was installed. The twenty-four pages that describe this shift are the heart of Wunderlich and Morrissey's argument.
Three new versions of Collodi's tale appeared during this time, the most famous being Walt Disney's 1940 film. But Wunderlich and Morrissey demonstrate that Disney owed much to Yasha Frank, whose play 1937 Pinocchio, created for the Federal Theatre Project, was seen by hundred of people, including Disney and his technical staff, who attended eight performances (87). Frank's puppet is innocent and sweet, surrounded by kindly adults who help him overcome his greedy tendencies. Unlike Collodi's Geppetto, Frank's fatherly character yearns for a son and cares for him tenderly. Frank's theatrical version, a similarly sweet 1939 book adaptation by Roselle Ross, and Disney's film—which eliminates the poverty and loneliness central to Collodi's novel—represent a complete reversal of the theme of the story, a reversal that, despite an occasional edition of Collodi's original work, has dominated most subsequent adaptations.
Today, in illustrations and on film, Pinocchio has regressed into a chubby baby, and the texts follow suit. Of course he does not attack Geppetto as soon as...