- Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night
"Pinocchio and the Emperor of The Night" is an animated
feature filmthat was released in Christmas of 1987 by New World Pictures. It should not be confused with the acclaimed classic 1940 film "Pinocchio" by Walt Disney. Running for 87 minutes and created by the now-defunct Filmation Studios, the film has underperformed at the box office, having a cost of $8 million, and making $3.2 million from one theater in its entire run, and it also gained mixed reviews from many audiences and movie critics over the years and it currently has a "D" at Box Office Mojo (compared to "Happily Ever After"'s grade of "C+"). Some have called it a blatant "rip-off" while others have called it a masterpiece in its own right; albeit perhaps a little too scary for the much younger audience because of the fearsome appearance of the Emperor of the Night. As of today, the film has retained a small following as a result of its distinctive wackiness and the overall surrealism that the film exudes.
The movie begins with a prologue. One of the main characters,
Lt. Grumblebee, is sleeping on a leaf when he suddenly awakes to a loud noise. Annoyed, he opens his eyes and is shocked to find out that a large wooden ship has moored up the banks of the river. As it docks, a man with a cloak and heavy beard steps out. He is Puppetino, chief henchman of the Emperor of the Night. As he surveys the surrounding area, he remarks, apparently to no one, that it is a perfect place to open ground. In response, an ethereal voice replies its satisfaction. Stakes suddenly fly out of nowhere and pierce the ground. With a red electrical jolt, a carnival-style tent slowly rises up from the ground. Witnessing this, Lt. Grumblebeedecides that it would be best to leave. He packs up a bag and leaves, post-haste.
The main story begins where the original story of the 1940 film left off. The story starts a year after
Pinocchiohad earned his humanity from the Good Fairy, who pays him a visit and sings a song for both of them (Love Is The Light Inside Your Heart) and she gives him a small wooden carving of a glow worm(which later comes to life and acts as his conscience). Later, his father (the marionette-maker Geppetto) sends him on an errand to deliver a jewel box to the town's mayor. Along the way, the carving comes to life and surprises Pinocchio, who accidentally names it Gee Willikers.
As he is walking along with his new-found conscience, he passes by a carnival where he can hear the shouts and screams of joy coming from the other children. Tempted to take a look for himself, he is sternly reminded by Willikers to deliver the jewel box for his father and return home. Reluctantly he does but as he continues with his errand, he is accosted by a cunning raccoon and his monkey sidekick (named Scalawag and Igor, respectively). Scalawag cons Pinocchio out of the jewel box and in return he gives Pinocchio the "Pharaoh's Ruby".
hame and escape
Upon returning home, Pinocchio is shocked to discover that the ruby is, in fact, a fake. Geppetto angrily scolds Pinocchio for being too trusting and sends him to bed. In his room, confronted with bitter shame, he runs away from home rather than have to face his father. He somehow makes his way to the carnival which was mentioned earlier and there he encounters a pretty blonde
marionette, Twinkle. Entranced by her beauty, he stays to watch her "performance" until it ends. When it ends, he is approached by Puppetino, who appears to be the carnival's proprietor. He coaxes Pinocchio to enter a room with him where there are a number of puppets and marionettes hanging on the wall or the ceiling. Putting Twinkle back in her place (whose expression seem to be one of sadness unnoticed before). With that, Pinocchio's hand turns back to wood without him noticing. Puppetino suddenly turns on Pinocchio and starts to play an ornate organ grinder. In what is arguably the movie's most nightmarish sequence, Pinocchio starts to dance uncontrollably, and he begins to turn back into a puppet. His desperate pleas to stop fall on deaf ears as Puppetino laughs sadistically and keeps on playing. Before long he is fully wooden again. Puppetino then re-attaches strings to him like a marionette and swings him in the air. Pinocchio desperately tries to utter a word ("I didn't know that I c-") but is fully turned into a puppet before he can do so. Now lifeless, he is then hung up beside Twinkle.
Good Fairycomes and (with the pleadings of Willikers) returns him to life. She then reminds him how important it is to have freedom of choice, saying that it is his greatest power and that he should use it wisely. Before leaving, he makes a promise to the marionetteTwinkle, saying that he would return and free her. As he leaves, the head of the marionetteseems to bend sideways in response.
Pinocchiotracks down the two con-artistsScalawag and Igor and forces them to help him find Geppetto's jewel box, which they say was sold to Puppetino (much to Pinocchio's horror). Returning to the site of the carnival, they discover that it has packed up and moved down the river in the wooden ship mentioned earlier. Using a paddle steam-boat, they pursue the wooden ship. Whilst tailing it, Scalawag experiences a sudden change of heart and tries to convince Pinocchio to turn the boat around. Refusing to do so, he is put in a difficult position when Scalawag tries to wrest control of the boat's wheel from him. They scuffle, and in the process, break the wheel. Angrily rebuking Scalawag for what he did, neither of them notice that they have passed the ship and are actually "in its path". When they finally realize it, it is already too late. The ship's steamer (with the suspicious appearance of a whale) opens up and swallows their boat whole, with Pinocchio, Scalawag and Igor in it.
Meanwhile, as these things are taking place, Willikers is desperately trying to find Pinocchio, having gotten separated from him earlier. He then encounters Lt. Grumblebee, who seems to be trapped in a flower and sounds drunk (apparently, of all things, on honey). After coming to his rescue, Willikers asks that Lt. Grumblebee help him find Pinocchio. More than willing to do so, Lt. Grumblebee carries Willikers, who despite being a glowbug is unable to fly. But Lt. Grumblebee's first destination is a town that seems to be for
insects. There they meet the mayor of the insect town and find out that the city is being threatened by a large, bug-eating toad. Somehow, Willikers manages to get rid of the toad menace, much to the insect town's relief. Venerated as a hero, he and Lt. Grumblebee then continue their search for Pinocchio.
In the cavernous depths of the ship, Pinocchio and the others awaken to find themselves in a place that vaguely resembles that of an underwater cave. Scalawag chillingly remarks that they have entered the Empire of the Night. No sooner had he said those words, another boat slowly comes out of the infinite blackness. The man steering the boat and clothed in the style of the
gondolamen of Venicecalls out "All aboard!" and then asks Pinocchio whether he would like a ride. Pinocchio was inclined to agree but Scalawag and Igor, distrusting the evil, reddish glow in the eyes of the Boatman coupled along with his oily smile, begs him not to go. Ignoring them, he takes up the offer and hops aboard the other boat, leaving the other two alone and frightened. Fortunately, Willikers manages to latch onto Pinocchio's sleeve.
When they arrive at their destination, Pinocchio is both surprised and delighted to find a funhouse that looks more like a disco (reminiscent of Pleasure Island from the original Walt Disney motion picture). Before he manages to pass through the entrance, he is stopped by a
doormancompletely garbed in poisonous green. The doorman tells Pinocchio that he may enter and partake of the pleasures within the funhouse so long as he agrees to this one condition; that he signs a contractafter he's had his fill. Unsuspectingly, Pinocchio agrees to this without much forethought. As the doorman ushers him through the entrance, he fail to notice the smile of wicked pleasure on the guard's face along with the red gleam in his eyes. Inside the funhouse, he is soaking up his seemingly unbelievable good fortune when he is accosted up by another boy, a sleazy-looking ruffian, who takes up a beer mug and scoops it into the fountain. He then offers Pinocchio the mug, filled with a greenish fluid (possibly a veiled allusion to alcohol, perhaps even absinthe). Having downed an entire mugful of the greenish liquid, Pinocchio walks towards a crowd of children in a drunken manner; something having caught his eye. This time, it comes in the form of unlimited toys and games, supposedly enough for everyone. Once more he is accosted by the same fellow who encourages him to have another mug. Gladly accepting his offer, he proceeds to have another mug. But as he is drinking from the mug, Twinkle's image suddenly appears at the bottom of the mug, telling him not to fall into the trap. Slightly creeped out, Pinocchio starts to hallucinate and experiences a situation commonly associated with LSDconsumption (the faces around him start to distort and morph into terrifying hallucinations). Unable to cope with it, he passes out.
Upon regaining consciousness, Pinocchio is astonished and slightly nonplussed to find himself behind a curtained stage. A chorus of voices emanate from outside the stage, calling out for Pinocchio. A kindly man, dressed up like a
circus ringmasterencourages Pinocchio to go out and perform, citing that "your fans are waiting". He gives Pinocchio a slight nudge of confidence but his eyes, at the last moment have a red fire in them as well. When he walks out, albeit a bit shyly at first, his presence is greeted with wild cheering and applause from an unseen crowd. Emboldened by their seeming approval, he begins to dance only to be joined by none other than Twinkle herself. Meanwhile Scalawagand Igorwitness this from the floor (although how they got there is not implied) Scalawag, now thoroughly frightened, cries out to Igor, saying that they had to snap Pinocchio out of this. Scalawag suddenly comes up with a plan; they'll join the line of dancing showgirlsthemselves! The results are comical as they dress up in hilarious outfits, trying to catch Pinocchio's attention. Pinocchio is distracted for several moments but quickly continues dancing when the both of them are mysteriously pulled away by two cane hooks. Having finished his dance routine, Pinocchio takes a deep bow, much to the "audience's" delight.
Looking between his legs Pinocchio is suddenly aware that a pair of legs are walking towards him. Getting up, he is immediately wary of a Puppetino standing before him with a lazy smile on his lips. Backing away cautiously, he is startled to hear someone call out his name. Turning around, he sees the Boatman standing in what appears to be a sea of seated people. With an unholy crimson glow in his eyes, he strikes his pole onto the ground and morphs into the Doorman. The Doorman reminds Pinocchio in a mocking tone that "you've had fun with no rules, all the toys you could ask for, FAME AND STARDOM!". Striking his pole once more onto the ground, he morphs into the Ringmaster. The Rimgmaster tells him that this is the place "where every dream has come true" before morphing into his true form—the Emperor of the Night, a demonic floating being with four arms who demands in a thunderous voice, "NOW! YOU MUST PAY THE PRICE!" In a frightened tone, Pinocchio asks who he is. Revealing his name, the Emperor then claims to him that our hero is now in his domain. He states to Pinocchio that he must sign the contact that will surrender his freedom and make him a puppet again. The Emperor then goes on the explain that every time a child gives up their freedom, the Good Fairy becomes weaker, while he himself grows stronger. Pinocchio refuses to sign, and is thrown behind bars, along with Scalawag and Igor.
Willikers, after arriving, is stuffed into a bottle and thrown off the ship. Whilst floating in the water, Grumblebee spots him and helps him out by using his stinger to unscrew the cork. As the fog in the sky is too thick to see through, Grumblebee spins his stinger (and the cork) furiously while walking on the water, simulating a speedboat and with Willikers riding along as they travel to the ship.
Back on the ship, Pinocchio still refuses to sign the contract. However, the Emperor decides to let him go with seemingly no catch. He gets to take Twinkle, who has reverted into a puppet, and even receives his jewelbox back. Upon opening it, he finds Geppeto inside, shrunk to Williker's size. The Emperor then states that only Pinocchio may leave, and that his friends will be taken away. Left with no choice, Pinocchio signs the contract, giving up his freedom and reverting back into a puppet. Unfortunately, The Emperor still refuses to let his friends go. Pinocchio asks why The Emperor didn't turn him into a puppet in the first place, and why he had to sign first. The answer he receives is that people decide their own fate. His anger aroused, Pinocchio is suddenly surrounded by a blue aura from the Good Fairy, which the Emperor fears. He yells at Puppetino to stop Pinocchio from approaching him. Puppetino, however, backs away in fear from Pinocchio when he turns to give the man an angry glare. In a desperate attempt, the Emperor fires energy at the heroes, only to accidentally hit a part of his beloved ship. Red energy eats away at everything. Pinocchio and friends run for their lives. Puppetino also attempts to escape but his master, the Emperor, calls him a worthless coward and strikes the running figure of Puppetino below him with a bolt of red energy. It hits him and he screams in agony as his freedom is taken away and he becomes a puppet.
Our heroes first encounter a door that is too high for anyone to reach. Luckily, as he is a puppet, Pinocchio lies to extend his nose and turn the handle. They then run into a room of doors. They eventually find the right door, but it's a rotating one, which Pinocchio's nose cannot fit. He then tells the truth to shrink it to normal. They reach the top of the ship, and Pinocchio's friends jump into the waters below, while he himself confronts the Emperor of the Night one more time, stating that fate cannot be controlled. With the blue aura around him, he runs toward the Emperor's body, while Willikers objects, "No, Pinocchio! He's fire, you're wood!" (though it's never explained directly whether the Emperor is a specific substance or not). Not heeding his guardian conscience, Pinocchio runs toward the Emperor, pell-mell. The Emperor cries out in an unholy voice and with a flash of bright light is destroyed along with his ship. Fade to black.
The next scene shows Geppetto (now big again) mourning over the seemingly lifeless body of Pinocchio, with Scalawag and Igor soon joining him in his sorrow. Pinocchio wakens up and shortly after the fairy god mother appears. Congratulating him on making the right choice (that is to say, the choice of freedom), she then reminds him of how important freedom is. To the immense joy of both father and son, the Blue Fairy returns to them the jewel box, with Scalawag looking on greedily and his subsequent reprimanding at the hands of Igor (a hard elbow in the stomach) and Twinkle now a real girl. The film ends and credits roll.
While the original "Pinocchio" had a darker tone towards the conclusion of the film, in the scene in which Pinocchio's friend is transformed into a donkey, this version has many darker and more disturbing themes and tones. A clear example is when Pinocchio is transformed back into a puppet by the hand of the Puppet-Master Puppetino. The scene has often been quoted as the 'scariest and most disturbing scene' in the entire film, showing Pinocchio's desperation to escape Puppetino's power as he uses a music-box and strings to transform him back into a puppet and also showing he has done this to many children, including Twinkle. Some have even compared the scene to a
rapeand that Puppetino came across as a child molester. This scene however, was cut from the film when it aired on TV.
Another scene that has darker tones is the presentation of 'The Land Where Dreams Come True' in which Pinocchio drinks a green, possibly alcoholic liquid similar to a scene in "
Dumbo". However, unlike "Dumbo", which depicts the more humorous consequences of intoxication, Pinocchio experiences a warped sense of reality akin to what is experienced by consuming a considerable amount of hallucinogen. The entire scene from the entrance into the Emperor's ship suggests themes of captivity and temptation as Pinocchio is drawn in and finally trapped by the Emperor himself.
On a lighter tone, the film clearly distinguishes the idea of freedom and choice. Pinocchio's freedom is threatened and tested both by Puppetino and his master, The Emperor of the Night. It is choice alone that is able to defeat the Emperor, as Pinocchio chooses to 'sacrifice' himself to save his father and is rewarded with a boy's life again.
Comparison with Disney's "Pinocchio"
Many of the characters and themes in this film are obviously 'borrowed' from Disney's 1940 "Pinocchio":
*Pinocchio has a small insect to act as his 'conscience' (
Jiminy Cricketin the original). The name "Gee Willikers" is based on a slang expression, as was Jiminy Cricket.
*Pinocchio meets two
anthropomorphiccon artists ("Honest John" and Gideon in the original) who want to turn him over to a villain.
*Pinocchio is imprisoned by a villain (
Stromboliin the original) and rescued by the good fairy.
*Pinocchio makes a daring escape from an enemy at sea. In the original it was the giant whale
Monstrowho, like the Emperor's ship, swallowed their boat whole.
*Pinocchio risks his live to save Geppetto. As in the original, Geppetto believes he has drowned, only for him to wash up face down on the beach.
Cast of characters
Scott Grimesas Pinocchio
Tom Bosleyas Geppetto
Edward Asneras Scalawag
Frank Welkeras Igor
Jonathan Harrisas Lt. Grumblebee
James Earl Jonesas The Emperor of the Night
* William Windom as
Don Knottsas Gee Willikers
Rickie Lee Jonesas The Fairy Godmother/The Good Fairy
Lana Beesonas Twinkle
List of animated feature films
*imdb title|id=0093743|title=Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night
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