by Randall Allen Dunn
I am sometimes boggled by the rudeness and bad manners that define some of today’s youth. I keep wondering where it comes from, and why the next generation seems incapable of showing respect to the older generation.
It seems that many children and young adults suffer from a selfish self-delusion about their future, assuming that they will one day be a world-famous fashion model or become the next American Idol, after which they will never have to actually work a day in their lives. So they reason that, since their future is all sewn up due to their obvious talent, they don’t need to listen to adults. After all, who needs parents or teachers when you’re a celebrity in the making?
I’m not against stardom. After all, I hope to make a living one day as a writer. But I’m very much against people refusing to face reality because they think they’re above it. Anyone who has achieved lasting celebrity status had to make sacrifices and work hard for it – something that many of today’s “legends in their own mind” don’t grasp.
As I considered these things, and my concerns for the attitudes my own children might adopt, I wondered what made my own childhood different. And I remembered watching the movie, “Pinocchio”, when I was very young.
I remember it scaring me to death.
At the same time, as I grew up, there were certain lines I would simply never cross. I generally did not mouth off to my parents. I didn’t do drugs or smoke. I didn’t drink before I was of legal age, and I seldom drink now. I wasn’t a perfect kid, but I avoided a lot of things I could have gotten involved in, because they had “danger signs” that told me they would lead me into a trap.
I decided to watch “Pinocchio” again with my daughter, Abby, warning her that there would be some scary scenes, but that it was a good movie. I wanted her to learn some life lessons from something meaningful, not from the rude and selfish attitudes modeled on some teen television shows we’ve seen.
In the film, an elder toymaker named Geppetto, having no children of his own, wishes on a star for his latest puppet creation, Pinocchio, to transform into a real human boy. While Geppetto sleeps, a Blue Fairy appears in his toy shop and grants his wish, bringing Pinocchio to life. She tells Pinocchio he has been given a gift, but is still a mere puppet. To become a real boy, he must prove himself to be “brave, truthful and unselfish” by learning to choose wisely between right and wrong. Pinocchio promises to do so, with the help of his new friend, Jiminy Cricket, who volunteers to be Pinocchio’s “conscience”, since Pinocchio has no idea what a conscience is.
Like all of us, Pinocchio starts off with the best of intentions, determined to prove himself dependable by obeying his “father”, Geppetto, and going to school, just like a real boy.
But along the way, Pinocchio runs into two slick con artists that have “Bad Influence” written all over them: a fox named Honest John and a cat named Gideon. (For most of today’s children, meeting a talking fox and cat would be creepy enough to make them keep walking, but Pinocchio has a wooden brain.)
Seeing a wooden puppet with no strings, they seize the opportunity to make a quick buck. They tell Pinocchio that school is for losers, not talented stars like him. As a puppet without strings, Pinocchio should head straight for the theatre to start an acting career instead. Being a puppet with no conscience or experience, Pinocchio swallows their lies and lets them sell him to Stromboli, a puppeteer who makes Pinocchio the star of his show.
But when Pinocchio tells Stromboli he’s ready to head home now, Stromboli throws him in a cage, telling him it’s his new home, and his new job is to make the puppeteer a fortune.
At this point, Abby told me she didn’t like this movie. I understood that. Nobody likes consequences, or even thinking about them. We love to dream of the wonderful life we feel we deserve, but we never consider whether we’re choosing a safe path to get there.
After I promised Abby that Pinocchio would get away, and she would like the movie in the end, she finally agreed to continue.
Thankfully, the Blue Fairy appears to rescue Pinocchio, telling him that poor Geppetto is out searching the streets for him. But when she asks him how he got in a cage, Pinocchio starts telling her the biggest lies he can imagine, despite Jiminy Cricket’s advice to tell the truth. He doesn’t want to confess that he disobeyed Geppetto by skipping school to become a puppet stage star.
So his nose grows.
The Blue Fairy explains that a person’s lies grow bigger and bigger, until they’re out of control. When Pinocchio confesses the truth and asks for help, the fairy restores his nose to its former wooden glory and sets him free.
The next day, Pinocchio starts out for school again, once more with the best of intentions. And once again, Honest John and Gideon show up to lead him astray. (Isn’t it funny how Bad Influences keep showing up until we learn to just say “no” to them?) This time, they tell him he looks ill, and needs a vacation. They describe a wonderful place for boys to have fun all day long, where they never have to listen to parents or teachers, and never have to be polite or self-controlled. A place where they can gamble and smoke cigars and drink whiskey and cuss as much as they want. A place where little boys like Pinocchio can finally be free!
The place: Pleasure Island.
Pinocchio buys their lies again, ditching his “conscience” Jiminy for the excitement of what Honest John calls freedom. On the wagon ride to Pleasure Island, he meets his new best friend, Lampwick. (When a kid in a story is named “lamp wick”, you know he won’t last for long.) Lampwick is the poster child for Pleasure Island, ready to break windows and play all day, doing everything that grown-ups tell him not to. He wants to experience all the fun in life that he figures the adults are keeping him from.
What neither boy realizes is that the happy owner of Pleasure Island has cast a spell over the place. Every boy who comes there to waste his life away soon finds it taken from him, as he is transformed into a donkey, then shipped away as a beast of burden to various countries.
With Jiminy Cricket’s help, Pinocchio barely escapes with his life, having already acquired a donkey’s ears and tail. Lampwick, of course, doesn’t make it. The Bible states that the candle of the righteous shines brightly, but the candle of the wicked will be snuffed out. Lampwick made his selfish choices, and didn’t seek an escape until it was too late.
Pinocchio arrives home, his foolish choices evident by his long ears and dragging tail. But Geppetto is gone. A letter from the Blue Fairy informs him that Geppetto went searching for him again, but was swallowed by the fearsome whale named Monstro. Pinocchio and Jiminy head out to sea to rescue Geppetto from the whale’s belly. They are soon swallowed by Monstro, too. Reunited with Geppetto, Pinocchio builds a fire inside the whale’s mouth, forcing it to sneeze them out.
As Monstro pursues them, Pinocchio gets Geppetto to safety in an undersea cave, just before the whale smashes into the cliff face. He saves Geppetto and the others, but dies in the attempt.
The Blue Fairy then gives Pinocchio new life as a human boy, since he has finally proven himself to be trustworthy and faithful, putting others above himself.
By the end, Abby decided that she liked “Pinocchio” after all.
Let’s face it, “Pinocchio” is a frightening movie about the dangers of making bad choices. But sometimes, we need to recognize the danger of a pit so that we don’t foolishly fall into it. It’s easy to dream up a perfect life for ourselves, where we achieve stardom, win the lottery, and everybody loves us, as we kick up our feet and soak it all in.
In real life, we need to work to receive an income, even a big one. And we need an education in order to qualify for steady jobs. We need to listen to grown-ups and people with experience, so that we can learn how to live our lives wisely. And we need to treat those people with respect, or they might not be as willing to share their insights with us.
Life isn’t as easy as rock stars and supermodels might make it seem. We love to hear about the mansions they live in, the fast cars they drive, and the people clamoring for their autograph. We’re not so interested in hearing about their fourteen-hour work days on the set, the desserts they had to give up, or the lack of privacy and a genuine social life. Even the rich and famous have to work, and their privileges typically come with a price.
It’s tempting to take the easy route to fortune and freedom, while ignoring everyone who tells you to follow the tried-and-tested rules of life. But many of those “rules” that get ignored are actually laws of nature, about how to treat others and succeed in a community. Cheating or coasting your way through life can cost you friends, your reputation and even your life.
When you’re tempted to chase after the “easy life”, remember that many older and wiser people have experienced that same temptation, and learned there were some strings attached.
Find more reviews of “Pinocchio” at amazon.com!
Sunday, April 1st, 2012