Q: Is there Marian imagery in Disney's Pinocchio?

A: The only possible verbal allusion to the Virgin Mary in this classic animated feature from Disney, seems to be the greeting 'Milady' which Jiminy Cricket addresses to the Blue Fairy at the conclusion. In Italian, this term translates as 'Madonna', which is among the most common Marian appellations. However, there is quite a bit of visual and thematic imagery which could be interpreted as alluding to the Marian symbol.

In fact, the entire film has strong religious overtones and resembles a medieval morality play in many respects. Geppetto, the carpenter who creates the puppet, is shown kneeling in prayer to open and close the film. And Pinocchio's first day opens to church bells as we see a flock of white doves fly past a cross atop the roof of a building. In addition to these religious images, Scripture is also quoted. For example, Jiminy Cricket tells Pinocchio that "conscience is that still, small voice which nobody ever listens to," language clearly alluding to the desert experience of the Prophet Elijah. Also, in the climactic struggle at the film's end, the puppet protagonist rescues his father who has been 'swallowed by a whale' like the Prophet Jonah. Such ties to the Bible make more plausible any potential references to Miriam of Nazareth which are rooted in that same source.

Beyond the pervasive, but general, religious content, there is also material which seems to relate to the Virgin Mary in particular, in the person of the Blue Fairy [voiced by the un-credited Evelyn Venable]. The character of a generic 'spirit helper' is common in tales like this. However, there are several particular details which suggest that the Virgin Mary has been intentionally suggested.

For example, in the Blue Fairy's two appearances, her presence is anticipated by a luminous orb which approaches, fills the scene, then dissolves into circles of white light from which her figure appears. The Virgin Mary is said to have arrived in similar fashion for her apparitions at La Salette and Fatima. Of course, diffused white light is a well-established convention for the supernatural in the film industry.

She is clad in a light-blue dress covered with shining white spots. She has wings which are colored in light-blue or off-white. Blue and White have become commonly associated with images of the Virgin Mary, perhaps following the famous paintings of the Immaculate Conception by Murillo (1617-1682), or the reports of Mary's appearances at Lourdes (1858).

A mantle or cape accompanies the blue fairy's outfit, yet another common motif in Marian art (e.g. The Madonna of Mercy by Piero della Francesca). This is done to allude to protection within the folds of the garment, usually as between a mother and her young child. Based on her maternal care of the child Jesus, Mary has come to be seen as a figure of maternal care for all.

Besides the visual cues, there is thematic material which also suggests a Marian presence. The heart of the film is the need to accept responsibility for one 's actions and to choose right over wrong. This sort of moral education is a very important facet of the way Catholics [and other Christians, especially the Eastern Orthodox] see Mary operating within the communion of saints.

Ordinarily, I would consider such a steady sequence of implicit verbal, visual, and thematic imagery sufficient cause to posit the existence of intentional Marian symbolism. In the case of Pinocchio, there is additional evidence which seems quite conclusive.

The film was released in 1940, the same time as Disney's Fantasia. In the latter film, there is a lengthy sequence set to the music of Schubert's Ave Maria. William Tytla [listed as Vladimir in the credits] was the animation supervisor for the Ave Maria sequence. He was also an animation director on Pinocchio. In Fantasia, Mary was not portrayed visually, but suggested audibly by the use of Schubert's explicitly Marian music. By contrast, in Pinocchio, released about the same time, Disney's animators appear to have suggested the character of Mary visually, though symbolically, in the figure of the Blue Fairy.

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