The Wooden Boy Gets a New Polish

Actor Dick Jones talks about working with Disney and voicing Pinocchio, which is out this month as a special 70th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray release.

Pinocchio may have not had a much deeper meaning than a transparent moral allegory when it was penned by Carlo Collodi in 1883. By 1940, however, Walt Disney turned the tale into a story about wishing your dreams into reality, and thereby shaped the mission statement of his enchanting multi-media company. Now Pinocchio has been released as a 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD and high-definition Blu-ray, with enhanced sound and picture (Jiminy is finally as green as the artists intended!) and complete with some delightful extras.

Besides an hour-long documentary on the making of the film, there’s commentary by Leonard Maltin, animator Eric Goldberg and film historian J. B. Kaufman (keep your eyes peeled for his book on the making of Pinocchio), as well as a pop-up fact option and deleted scenes. Also included are some informative but truncated features on Walt’s sweatbox sessions and the (once clandestine) technique of using live-action footage for animation reference.

‘They dressed us up in costume and built a set to do the scene where J. Worthington Foulfellow said, ‘Your name should be in lights,’ and we danced down the road singing ‘Hi Diddly Dee, an actor’s life for me,” recalls actor Dick Jones, who voiced the famous wooden boy when he was only 11. ‘They choreographed a little routine for the three of us, and the animators worked off that because they just couldn’t figure out how to put it together.’

Jones tried out for the part of Pinocchio in 1938. ‘At first, Walt heard people audition who were imitating kids,’ says Jones. ‘When he heard it, he said he wanted to have a real little boy. Then there were 200 of us boys auditioning for the part. Over four or six weeks it boiled down to just two of us. I have no idea why he chose me, but I was disappointed for my friend, who lost out. However, he got a better job: Sam McKim got a 40-year job at Walt Disney Studios as an artist.’

Jones recorded all his dialogue over an 18-month period between 1938 and 1939. At every session, Walt was in the recording booth. ‘He really didn’t impress me, other than the fact that he was the boss,’ says Jones of Walt. ‘I took any advice he gave, I did what he wanted, but any direction he gave he handed to me through his director, because Walt Disney was a firm believer in the chain of command.’

Jones did all his scenes with the other actors beside him. ‘We worked just like a radio program, we stood face to face and read our scripts the way we marked them up. I worked with Frankie Darro who played Lampwick way back in 1934 on Little Men, and The Blue Fairy, Evelyn Venable’she and I finished a Hopalong Cassidy picture a week before we started Pinocchio.’

Jones shared a method that the Disney Studio adopted to achieve accurate lip sync: ‘When I was working off the script, they put a small 8mm camera on me’they didn’t shoot up close because of the sound of the camera gears, but they put a long lens on it’and they would just shoot my nose, lips and chin. They put their own expressions in the eyes, but they wanted the correct formation of the words to make the animation as lifelike as possible.’ When he wasn’t working, Jones remembers goofing around with Walt. ‘Something he did with everybody else but included me was he taught me how to throw push pins. And we had games and played push-pin darts. I never could beat him.’

Jones, who appeared in numerous movies (including The Major and the Minor, The Adventures of Mark Twain and many Westerns) retired from acting in the ’50s, but he enjoys sharing with others the fact that he voiced Pinocchio all those years ago. ‘At the time I did Pinocchio it was just a job,’ he says. ‘I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed working with the people, but no one at that time knew it was going to blossom into the legend it came out to be’I just happened to be there at the right time and the right place, and I got to be a so-called ‘Disney Legend’ also, and that is a wonder of all wonders. I’m very blessed to be a part of that.’

You can pick up Disney’s new 2-Disc Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition on DVD ($29.99) and Blu-ray ($35.99) in stores and online this month.