Dr. Toon: Altered States
As I begin to look back on 2009, I can categorically state that one of my favorite releases on DVD was the 70th anniversary reissue of Pinocchio (and first time on Blu-ray). Not only is the original film newly sumptuous in its presentation, there is a bonus disc that is certain to satisfy the hunger of many a Disneyphile and animation aficionado. Two features (which are actually somewhat related) in particular stand out: the first is titled "The Sweatbox --Walt Disney's Artistic Review Process." This documentary details how progress on an animated film was reviewed and refined through use of pencil tests and Leica reels. The second is a newly discovered trio of deleted scenes including an alternate ending. It is this ending, as much as anything else that shows the thought that went into the final version of Pinocchio, as well as the purpose an alternate ending should truly serve.
Alternate endings have vastly different meanings today than they did in 1940. Many films today do, in fact, shoot two (or even more) endings that are then shown to test audiences or focus groups. The ending that gets the most positive response is the one that usually gets nailed to the film, sort of a cinematic version of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Of course, the selected ending may be the one that was furthest from the screenwriter's intent, and some tinkering may have to be done with earlier material to make the Procrustean fit look neater.
It often matters little if the tail ends up pinned to the donkey's nostrils; profit is the bottom line, and giving the public (or a tiny test sample of same) what it wants trumps creative consistency. In Walt's studio, the focus group was comprised of the people responsible for the artistic content of the film, and their aesthetics were the deciding factors. Improvement and refinement were the goals of having a film end differently than originally written. The only ending the public saw was the one Disney ultimately released.
Another difference is that test audiences have developed specific tastes based on their filmic experiences. They are familiar with the structure of modern comedy, farce, drama, psychodrama, conspiracy flick and horror film as it exists in their culture. Ask them how a story told in the multiplexes ought to end and they can give you viable feedback. They have creative expectations of others whereas the Disney story team on Pinocchio had only creative expectations of themselves. Thus, the investment by Disney was far greater.
A test audience watching two, three or even 15 different endings to an Adam Sandler film couldn't care less if said film gets poorer play than the balloon boy hoax; they lose nothing. Disney's crew, in 1940, was under tremendous pressure to create an aesthetic triumph equal to Snow White, keep the studio solvent and further artistic improvement and innovation in the process. They had everything to lose. Therefore, the alternate ending to Pinocchio is a deceptively important artifact in the early history of Disney. No pencil tests, story notes or finished animation seems to exist, only fragmentary storyboards. Notes on the boards indicate "same animation," suggesting that this ending may have survived well into production. It may be more appropriate to consider this work as an unused rather than alternate ending, but I will stick with the language used in the DVD.