Pinocchio – The Story of a Young, Wooden Boy on a Hero’s Journey

by James Bonnet

Walt Disney and his team, the creators of Pinocchio, knew how to tell a great story. They knew how to use the creative process to create metaphors that make a compelling psychological connection and bring powerful hidden truths to the surface. This is why their classic animated films were so successful – and this is why Pinocchio is considered one of the finest Disney features ever made, and the greatest animated film of all time.

Pinocchio, the central character of the story, is a personification of our conscious selves, which monitors the real world through our five senses, performs the conscious functions, and has the awesome responsibility for keeping us safe and making all of our choices and decisions.

In the beginning of the story, Geppetto, a spiritual father figure and a highly skilled toy and clock maker, has created a magnificent wooden puppet he names Pinocchio. Geppetto is, in fact, so delighted with his creation that he is inspired to make a wish that Pinocchio will become a real boy.

That night, while Geppetto sleeps, a beautiful Blue Fairy, like Athena in the epics of Homer, arrives like a figure in a dream from the other side of consciousness. She has heard Geppetto’s wish, and because of the extraordinary person he has been, and the happiness he has given to so many children with his wonderful toys, she has come to partially fulfill his wish and gives the gift of life to his new puppet. However, she doesn’t, as yet, transform him into a real boy because that is something the wooden boy will have to accomplish on his own.

And what is Geppetto’s wish but the wish all good parents make that their children will grow up to be happy, healthy, well-loved, fully-realized human beings. And what is the Blue Fairy’s judgment – that Pinocchio, at this stage, is a young child with a newly awakened consciousness who is seriously in need of guidance and experience.

The fact that Pinocchio is a wooden boy is a metaphor for the inauthentic state the hero and ourselves are in at the beginning of the adventure or journey. Psychologically, this metaphor is incredibly valid, indicating the incomplete condition of our conscious selves at this early age of our existence. Compared to what we could be, we are all like little boys that are yet undeveloped and the equivalent of wooden puppets. And going from where we are to where we could be will be like going from a puppet to a real boy.

The mind easily accepts this metaphor as our present condition and identifies with it. Then the story shows us how to become real people again, how to resolve these inauthentic states and become who we were really meant to be.  But in order to do that, we have to get involved in the problem and become part of the solution. The clear message of the Hero’s Journey is: if you want to reach your full potential, you have to learn how to transform these inauthentic states into higher states of being. It means living and acting like a hero. It means doing what a hero does. Even in the face of a seemingly impossible task.

The wisdom necessary to make these passages successfully is buried like a treasure deep in the unconscious. Great stories bring that wisdom to consciousness. The information contained in a great story, like Pinocchio, is all about these passages and how to accomplish them in such a way that you can achieve these higher states of being. And that is the essence of the Hero’s Journey – and that is what Pinocchio will have to achieve to become a real boy.

If we fail to make these passages successfully, there are serious consequences. We get stuck. We stop growing. We feel lost and unfulfilled. We end up like donkeys, pack animals, in a cold cruel, dog-eat-dog world. But if we succeed in making these passages, the rewards are tremendous – the full and happy life of a completely realized individual. How fortunate we are that Walt Disney created this extraordinary film to greet us at the beginning of our journey, when we are little more than wooden boys.

In short, we start life with a vast, unrealized potential. The Hero’s Journey, and there are many such journeys that we have to accomplish in a lifetime, are the cycles of change and growth that are necessary for us to pass through, at the different stages of our lives, to reach this vast potential.

The guidance the Blue Fairy gives Pinocchio is to resist temptation (the terrible element – the thing without which the problem wouldn’t be created) and prove himself brave, truthful and unselfish (the marvelous elements – the things without which the problem can’t be solved or the wish of becoming a real boy fulfilled.)

The Blue Fairy then knights Jiminy Cricket with her wand and he becomes a personification of Pinocchio’s conscience, or as the Blue Fairy says during his inauguration: “The Lord High Keeper of the knowledge of right and wrong, councilor in moments of temptation, and guide along the straight and narrow path.”

Actually the upcoming adventure takes Pinocchio along both sides of the Hero’s Journey, the downside and the upside. On the downside, Pinocchio, acting as an antihero, gives in to temptation, is lured into the villain’s devilish schemes, and descends to a lower, less desirable state; which is to say, if he had resisted the temptations offered by Honest John, he would never have ended up in Stromboli’s birdcage or on the Coachman’s Pleasure Island, and he wouldn’t be walking around with two donkey ears and a donkey tail.

Honest John is a foxy lower self motivated con man who is tempting the little boy to take the shortcut to fame and fortune and good health, with the help of catchy tune “Hi Diddlee Dee, It’s An Actor’s Life For Me,” when he is really being kidnapped and sold to another serious criminal, Stromboli, an evil puppeteer, who plans to keep the boy imprisoned, and pay him nothing, while he exploits his talents and makes himself rich.

Pinocchio escapes, with the Blue Fairy’s help, but then is repropositioned by Honest John and sold to the Coachman of Pleasure Island, another sneering villain and human trafficker who will pay even larger sums of money for “stupid boys” who can be lured away from school and transported to Pleasure Island, where a cruel and tragic fate awaits them.

Lampwick, Pinocchio’s new wise guy tough talking friend, and a well-known figure in our real lives, is a willing victim of the deception and a very bad influence on Pinocchio, who is now eagerly participating in the self-destructive fun.

All of which is a perfect metaphor revealing the serious dangers that are out there, if we cannot recognize and resist them.

All of this is revealed in the story.

Pleasure Island, after all, is a place where uneducated “stupid boys,” come to the island seeking endless forbidden pleasures but are really being transformed by these dangerous pleasures into the equivalent of donkeys – a sad but perfect metaphor for young people who have been ruined by a lack of education, unrealistic dreams, and their addictions to pleasure seeking, and who are now being transformed into donkeys – an unskilled, minimum wage labor force who will spend the rest of their lives working for others as virtual slaves and pack animals.

The energies the lower self controls are extremely powerful and seductive, and, under the right circumstances, they can easily retake possession of our conscious selves. The Devil, as they say, has all the best tunes. Psychologically, these are the appetites and desires of the lower self taking possession of our conscious self and redirecting its goals toward activities that will profit the criminals, while it stunts our growth and stymies our progress toward full realization.

When the appetites and desires succeed in this, they pull the conscious element, the antihero, into their camp. That creates the downside of the cycle, and that creates serious problems for the entity as a whole – in this case, Pinocchio and his family.

Jiminy Cricket, who has finally given up on Pinocchio and is leaving the island, witnesses the “stupid boys” being transformed into donkeys. He realizes what is happening and rushes back to the pool hall to alert Pinocchio, and discovers Lampwick has already been transformed into a donkey and Pinocchio is just beginning to be. Escaping from the island stops the transformation process and Pinocchio ends up with only donkey ears and a donkey tail.

They return home and discover Geppetto is now the one who is missing. A note from the Blue Fairy magically appears and informs them that Geppetto searched for the missing Pinocchio everywhere, including a sea voyage in a small boat to search the nearby islands, and now his boat has been swallowed by a short-tempered giant whale named Monstro. Geppetto is alive but unable to escape and so is a prisoner, along with Figaro and Cleo, in the whale’s belly.

On the upside of the passage, the hero resists temptation and advances to a higher state. When the conscious element gives in to the temptations of the lower self, an alienation from the higher self occurs. This is illustrated as a separation between Pinocchio and Geppetto, the positive spiritual father figure and the creator of puppets, who can be turned into real boys. To overcome that separation Pinocchio has to rescue Geppetto playing according to the hero’s rules, enduring the psychological ordeal that is necessary to accomplish the impossible task and reunite with that vital part of his higher consciousness – which is to say. restore Geppetto, his father and creator, to his rightful place.

So, the time to be unselfish, truthful and courageous has finally arrived. And Pinocchio is ready. He leads, and Jiminy Cricket follows him back to the ocean. They tie Pinocchio’s donkey tail to a big rock, jump off a cliff into the deep ocean, and walk several miles across the ocean floor until they find the sleeping whale. Pinocchio gets inside the whale and is happily reunited with his father, Figaro and Cleo.

The now clever and resourceful Pinocchio builds a fire on the deck of Gippetto’s boat, and the smoke from the fire causes Monstro to release a gale force sneeze that blows Geppetto’s and Pinocchio’s raft out of the angry whale’s mouth at an accelerating speed.

Then there is a desperate chase in a stormy sea and a furious counterattack by Monstro that smashes their raft and drives Geppetto, Figaro, Cleo and Jiminy onto a small beach. They search for Pinocchio and discover him face down in a shallow pool of water and no longer alive.

Pinocchio’s body is brought home and is lying on Geppetto’s bed surrounded by his mourning father, Jiminy, Figaro, and Cleo, all of whom are weeping from a terrible sense of loss and sadness.

There’s a burst of light just above Pinocchio’s body reminiscent of the light given off by the Blue Fairy’s wand, and Pinocchio comes alive in the form of a real boy, and his donkey ears and tail have disappeared.

This is the symbolic death and rebirth of the hero, indicating that his old, unreliable and vulnerable self has perished and his new real true self has now emerged in the form of a fully realized real boy.

They celebrate with music and dance, and Jiminy steps onto the ledge outside the window where the invisible Blue Fairy presents him with his 18 karat gold badge.

The ultimate goal of these passages is the creation and expansion of consciousness. The unconscious, according to what we’re being told by the archetypal patterns in great stories, is a pool of potential consciousness. We start out life, as infants, completely unconscious. The fully realized, ultimate states of mind we hope to achieve reside in the unconscious as conscious potential. The hidden truth revealed by story is all about how these unconscious “potential” energies can be awakened and converted into energies and powers that can be consciously administered and controlled. To function properly, the conscious self has to be initiated and strengthened at every step. The purpose of story is to guide the conscious self through these passages so it can properly administer these powerful, formerly unconscious energies. The actions of the hero and the antihero in story show the conscious self the way through this initiation process.

And this is how we transform ourselves from wooden puppet-like boys and girls into fully realized human beings – by following this path. The great story uses its imagery to stimulate our imaginations and give us little tastes of paradise which trigger fantasies that lead us to desires for positive actions in the real world. Then as we pursue these goals, the stories guide us through the passages using meaningful connections; each story revealing a little bit more of the truth. And piece by piece, bit by bit, drop by drop, the whole truth is gradually revealed. And, despite ourselves, we find our selves, realize our dreams, and, like Pinocchio we reach our full potential. The creative unconscious self is the source of that wisdom and that power. The great story is the guardian of that wisdom and that power. And if you unravel their mysteries and fathom their secrets, you can participate in your own creation.