I think it should go without saying that Pinocchio is one of the most disturbing Disney movies ever created. It will certainly occupy quite a few places in this series (which is why I’m starting out with it), and one of the most disturbing parts of this film is the character of the Coachman (voiced by Charles Judels, who coincidentally also voices Stromboli in the same film).
The Coachman is introduced about halfway through the film. At a sleepy tavern one night, the tricksters “Honest” John (a fox) and Gideon (a cat) are regaling the Coachman with how they tricked Pinocchio into going with Stromboli, the latter paying them a (tiny) modest fee in return. The Coachman appears bemused by all of this, and finally asks the two if they’d like to make some REAL money, thumping down an enormous bag of money on the table. To get paid, all Honest John and Gideon have to do is find as many naughty boys as they can and direct them to a coach that he has leaving at midnight. A few of the details are obscured in whispers, but the conclusion is that by the end of it all, the Coachman will be taking all the boys off to Pleasure Island.
“PLEASURE ISLAND?!!?” Honest John appears petrified for once and questions what will happen if the law finds out?? (Note how the music rises in “panic” along with Honest John’s words). Given the disregard for the law Honest John has shown before, it speaks volumes that he’s worried about it now. But the Coachman isn’t worried as there’s no risk: “You see…” he says “they never come back…as BOYS!!!”
THIS is what makes this a “Disturbing Disney” scene, not just the Coachman’s threat about the boys never returning (as humans) but also his unexpected transformation into this monstrous/demonic figure. When I re-watched the film for the first time in many years, I literally leaped back in my seat as I hadn’t remembered this part at all!! It’s a truly disturbing moment that makes the skin crawl. Clearly, the Coachman isn’t an ordinary human, in fact, I don’t think he’s human at all! Based on what we’ll see in the second installment, I think it likely that the Coachman is a literal “devil in disguise” (he is wearing red after all) or at the very least he’s a dark spirit working in league with the devil.
One last note, I just wanted to mention my thoughts on something I read while researching for this post: for those who say that this scene is a metaphor for pedophilia (i.e. they never come back as “boys” because he’s going to use them in THAT way, etc.), I would say consider WHEN this film was made. I’m not saying that issue didn’t exist in 1940, but films were still highly censored when it came to taboo subjects and if the review board had the slightest inkling that’s what this moment referred to, the scene would have been cut for sure (or the line would have been altered). That’s all I wanted to say about that; I believe the Coachman’s words can be interpreted literally, they’re not coming back as “boys” because they’re not going to be human when they return.
And to think this is found in a movie watched by children…*shudders* and if you think THIS is bad, just wait until #2, that’s when I’ll tell you the secret of Pleasure Island (and what happens to Pinocchio’s friend Lampwick…I nearly started with this scene instead but I thought it would be better to build up to it.)
What do you think of the first installment of “Disturbing Disney” ? I promise I’ve got plenty more to share with you. I can’t wait to see Logan tonight and share my thoughts on it with you 🙂
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For more Disturbing Disney, see also: