Filmation's "Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night" is a step above the Hanna-Barbera school of animation, but also a step below the Disney standard to which it obviously aspires. It's true that they don't make 'em like they used to -- can't afford to, actually -- but Filmation at least gives it a better try than most of today's animated advertisements-posing-as-features.
The story opens with Pinocchio, now a year into his life as a real boy, asked to run a simple errand by dad-creator Geppetto. On his way to deliver a fancy jewel box, Pinocchio makes a fateful detour to a forbidden carnival and loses it to the raccoon Scalawag and his monkey mate Igor. From there, the shamed child runs away to the carnival and his real adventures begin as he encounters Puppetino the Puppet Master, who's really a front man for . . . well, you get the idea. There are several subplots, all as deep as a wading pool, though the filmmakers are obviously trading on Pinocchio's having sawdust for brains to get him into his various jams.
No animated feature would be complete without introducing new characters, in this case the bumbling Grumblebee and the glowbug Gee Willickers. The usual suspects are also on hand, including the Fairy Godmother and the Emperor, who bears a certain resemblance to the boss of Bald Mountain in "Fantasia" as well as an overly familiar voice, that of James Earl Jones, who seems to be the generic Voice of Doom, live or animated.
Other celebrities lending their voices include Ed Asner (Scalawag), Tom Bosley (Geppetto), Don Knotts (Gee) and Rickie Lee Jones (Fairy Godmother). There are some songs, none in the least bit memorable, though Jones' rendition of "Love Is the Light Inside Your Heart" has a certain internal grit not usually heard in these quarters.
As for the animation, it's colorful, though lacking the kind of dimensionality one would hope for in an $8 million venture. It took 400 animators three years to make this "Pinocchio," which is being touted as perhaps the last picture in full animation to be produced entirely in the United States. That probably won't mean anything to the toddlers it's aimed for, but it's a sad grace note for a once-vibrant genre of American film.
Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, now playing at area theaters, is rated G.