This one comes from a children's novel called 'The Adventures of Pinocchio', written by Italian author, Carlo Collodi, and released in 1883. Through the years in between the book and the film, Pinocchio had already become a pretty famous hero of sorts, with his story having largely to do with being a jerk, going through a sort of "Hell", and finalizing it with a rebirth. And honestly, it's pretty spot on with the subject matter.
One nice thing about this title is that it's pretty well timeless, as opposed to something like 'Snow White', which hasn't aged all that well. This one has all the right ingredients for kids to take a few valuable life lessons from it. To this day, it remains one of my top picks for classic Disney, even if it does reach points of being truly disturbing.
We open things up with Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) who tells the story, which begins with him stumbling on an old inventor's home named Gepetto (Christian Rub). He lives among a variety of knickknacks, clocks, toys, etc. But what really catches Jiminy's eye is a marionette puppet, who Gepetto has named Pinocchio (Dickie Jones). Being a lonely old man, that night, Gepetto makes a "wish upon a star" (Oscar winner for Best Original Song) that his puppet comes to life, and gives him a son to take care of.
Enter the Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable), who brings Pinocchio to life. She tells him that he can become a real boy if he follows his conscience in the right direction. In one aspect of the movie I really enjoy, she ends up making Jiminy Cricket his official conscience. He's to guide Pinocchio in the right direction, leading him away from the path of temptation. The thing is, much like with any real human being, sometimes that little voice just isn't there, and sometimes we even ignore it with our curiosity.
As things unfold, Pinocchio does, indeed, find himself heading down that wrong path, largely guided by a fox named Foulfellow, or "Honest John" (Walter Catlett) and a cat named Gidean (Mel Blanc) who for whatever reason live among humans without being noticed. My take is that they're characters represented by these animals, especially the fox being known for being so sly. This also ties into all the disturbing stuff that happens later on involving bad little boys transforming into donkeys - a scene that may very well just scare your kids into being good. Even watching it now, I kinda wondered how I sat through those scenes in my youth.
Of course, as the adventure continues, Pinocchio learns a lot about what it means to be selfless, brave, and honest, especially when he discovers that lying makes his nose grow... which happens far less than I remember. The whole climax of the movie is very impressive with its animation as well as tension, as it tosses us into the ocean where we come face to face with a whale. The film has a happy ending, of course, but for a little while there it gets pretty crazy - a far cry from the black and white simplicity of 'Snow White'.
So here's one I might recommend for the whole family. There are some pretty freaky sequences here, but the lessons embedded within the film are nothing to ignore, and it does a good job of getting them through. It's pretty basic stuff, but it's done fairly subtly, and it doesn't preach the issue. It might just make your kids think twice before they invite that bad influence of a friend over, and I can honestly say that I wish I sat down to watch it more throughout my childhood because of that.