Pinocchio, Jonah, Disney and Salvation

In 1881, author Carlo Collodi from Florence, Italy wrote a classic children’s story he called, “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” It was a huge success. This was the book, years later, that inspired the 1940 Disney movie of the same name; the story of the wooden puppet who eventually became a real boy.

It is safe to say that many more have seen the movie than have read the book. Having recently read the original children’s story,  I would like to point out one major difference and one similarity between the Disney movie and the original story, and then rediscover the true and long lost moral.


The Difference

In Disney’s version, Pinocchio comes to life as a likeable boy who is basically a good person but who makes some poor choices. Disney’s Pinocchio is a product of The Enlightenment – not evil, but ignorant – just needing a little education and guidance to figure things out.

Contrast this to the original novel in which Pinocchio is an obnoxious selfish brat! Immediately after he comes to life, the ungrateful puppet sticks out his tongue, kicks Geppetto in the nose and runs out of the shop into the street. While on the run – Pinocchio’s exploits result in Geppetto being thrown in jail! With Geppetto in jail Pinocchio returns home where he is rebuked by a 100-year old Cricket who says, “Boys who turn against their parents and run away from home for no reason never come to any good. They will soon be sorry for their wild ways.” In response to this lecture, Pinocchio (get this) – throws a hammer at the cricket and kills him…

Yes that is right – in the original version of Pinocchio – the Cricket is unceremoniously squashed.

All this was too dark for Walt Disney – so he ordered an upgrade for both the puppet’s character and the Cricket’s role.  The movie sports a likable puppet and a conscience-minded cricket named Jiminy (who is not squashed).

The Similarity

But not all was lost from book to movie. Here is one thing they have in common.

In both versions, Pinocchio continually has to choose between voices of wisdom and voices of foolishness. The voices of wisdom come from his father Geppetto, the Cricket and a good fairy. The voices of foolishness come from a cat and the fox, the puppet master and wicked children (such as Lampwick).

For example, in the Disney movie while Pinocchio is on his way to school, trying to obey his father he encounters the cat and the fox. The cat calls out, “Where are you going?” “Why to school, of course,” answers Pinocchio. “School!” sneers the fox. “Why waste your time going to school? A talented boy like you should be on the stage.” “Do you mean to be an actor?” asks Pinocchio with wonder. “Yes, just think of it – bright lights, music, the roar of applause – and fame! Come with us,” says the fox slyly. “We’ll make you a star.” And so off Pinocchio goes with the cat and the fox where he ends up in disaster after disaster.

In both the movie and the book – when given the choice between wisdom and foolishness – Pinocchio always chooses folly, hurting those who love him and even putting them in danger.

So What Lessons can we Learn?

What Carlo Collodi gave the world in his story about a pernicious puppet is a lesson in anthropology. What is the nature of humankind? Are people basically good or evil? In the puppet we see ourselves – that we are all born with an inner desire to squash crickets. Theologians call this “the doctrine of original sin.” Just as Pinocchio did not need to be taught to be bad, so little children today easily demonstrate selfishness and pride without effort. And, of course, these children grow up to be selfish and prideful adults.

A second but related lesson is how how this internal brokenness results in succumbing to temptation. When given the choice between wisdom and foolishness – we are apt to be foolish, just like the puppet. We know what is right – but choose what is wrong. Even when we know the temptation will lead us down a dangerous path, there is something inside of us that eagerly wants to say, “yes.”

So what is the solution?

The solution is salvation through Jesus Christ. Let me explain.

It turns out that Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio, was a believing man. He attended Bible College at the Padri Scolopi Religious College and also seminary at Val E’Elsa in Florence. He intended at one point in his life to become a priest, but instead went into writing (and public service).

We can surmise from these details that he was a man who knew about the foolishness bound up in each of us. He would have easily equated you and I to that empty-headed puppet. He was making a statement about reality – and his worldview was informed by his religious convictions. He felt it was especially important to teach this to children and their parents.

Collodi also knew that real wisdom and salvation was found in Jesus Christ.

Think about the story again.

When and where did Pinocchio have his salvation experience? It was in the belly of a whale. While searching for his father, Pinocchio is swallowed by a great fish. This setting was directly taken from the story of Jonah. And while the symbolism is lost in the movie, it is clear in the book. From the belly of the whale, when he finally comes to the end of himself, Pinocchio cries out: “Help! Help!…Won’t someone come to save me?”

And this is followed by Pinocchio – a dead piece of wood – being changed into a living person.

He is born again.

It is one of the most clear salvation experiences in all of children’s literature.

So the next time your preschool child wants you to read the story of the wooden puppet. The next time you watch the 1940 Disney movie – take a moment to think about the original story. Take a moment to tell your child why our world is so selfish and prideful, and how they – like the puppet – can be rescued from their sins.

Though it may not have the status of Narnia or Lord of the Rings; when it comes to foolishness, wisdom and salvation – it is a pretty good story.

One comment

  1. Great writeup, thank you! I think there is also symbolism of baptism here going to the depths in the water and being reborn a child of God. From death to life.

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