The words above were penned by composer Leigh Harline for the Disney animated fable “Pinnochio.” In 1940, child actor Dickie Jones leant his talents to give voice to Geppetto’s …
The words above were penned by composer Leigh Harline for the Disney animated fable “Pinnochio.” In 1940, child actor Dickie Jones leant his talents to give voice to Geppetto’s wooden puppet who longed to be a real boy, and the song became a popular standard. Since then, it’s been recorded by a diverse group of entertainers, including Buddy Clark, Barbra Streisand and the Gipsy Kings.
I used to think of the story of Pinocchio as a metaphor for my own life, infused with that of another flawed Disney character, Peter Pan… you know, the boy who refused to grow up. I’m pretty sure that there’s a little bit of both still in me, and if memory serves, I had a Peter Pan hand puppet and a marionette version of you-know-who.
“I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown,” Pinnochio sings, celebrating his newfound independence. “I had strings, but now I’m free—there are no strings on me.” While I may have embraced that way of life in the past, in light of today’s landscape of pandemic and uncertainty, I’m beginning to feel like one of the lost boys. Thank goodness for Dharma the Wonder Dog, the real puppet master at Camp Fox.
Lately, I’ve been crazily introspective, almost to the point of maudlin, reliving the past and wondering why I chose to take the road less traveled. I know what married feels like: I was in a committed relationship for 18 years, but that was long ago in a galaxy far, far away. I’ve been single for 28 years and not unhappily, but I fear being quarantined with little to no human contact has taken its toll on me and my little dog, too.
With an inordinate amount of time alone at home, I’ve found myself scanning the internet for my childhood; because, you know, one can find anything on the internet. Longing to relive a simpler time while seeking escape from reality, I thought of Pinnochio. “Hi-ho the merrio,” he’d sing, “that’s the only way to go. I want the world to know, nothing ever worries me.”
Desperately wanting to recapture my lost innocence, I continued my search. I found the 1967 television classic “Flipper” that I loved as a kid. I happily dove in, watching episode after episode of Flipper’s adventures (both in and out of the water) with Sandy, his brother Bud and their park ranger dad. Flipper himself, a bottle-nosed dolphin, had been described as “The Lassie of the Sea” by TV critics back then, and that was fine by me, since I was a big fan of Lassie as well. Re-watching the adventures of Flipper made me long for more and once again, Pinocchio inspired me. “I’ve got no strings, so I have fun,” the animated tyke musically declares. “I’m not tied to anyone. They’ve got strings, but you can see—there are no strings on me.”
Thoughts of my childhood, puppets and marionettes swirled around me and sparked another television memory, but the pint-sized stars of shows like “Fireball XL-5,” “Thunderbirds” and “Stingray” had more than a few strings attached.
“Supermarionation,” (a portmanteau of the words super, marionette and animation) was, according to Wikipedia, “a style of television production employed by British company AP Films in its puppet series’ of the 1960s created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The characters in these productions were played by electronic marionette puppets with moveable lips, which opened and closed in time with pre-recorded dialogue. Most of the productions were science fiction and made extensive use of scale model special effects.”
“Oh my God, I haven’t seen these shows in decades!” I squealed at the dog, who wagged in enthusiasm, possibly hoping for a walk. “You gotta’ see this, girl,” I continued, oblivious to her desire. “There are submarines, rocket ships, aliens and all sorts of puppet animals, including sea monsters—you’ll like those.”
These puppets were unlike any the world had ever seen and 10- year-old me (and all of my friends) were enthralled. Reflecting the era, there were puppets who drank martinis, puppets who smoked, nerdy puppet scientists and beautiful lady puppets who were international spies sporting beehive hairdos and miniskirts. Their eyes blinked, their lips moved and they walked, swam and danced the twist at puppet parties via hundreds of strings on elaborate three-dimensional sets. I remember having disdain for Pinocchio once the Thunderbirds made their debut and cast him aside for more glamorous futuristic adventures starring chain-smoking and possibly alcoholic puppets.
The distraction has been both a blessing and a curse. While allowing me to relive those carefree days by re-watching the futuristic Sci-Fi puppet shows of my youth, I can’t help but notice that they (IMHO) eerily predicted some pretty weird stuff, some of which is playing out in the real world today. In fact, an episode featuring marionettes wearing surgical masks for protection against some unknown pathogen threatening the other puppets jolted me out of my reverie. “Maybe I’ll stick to Pinocchio after all,” I said to Dharma, grabbing her leash. “Hi-ho the me-ri-o,” I sang, grounding myself in the questionable present. “I guess that’s the only way to go.”