Pinocchi-O-Rama #4: The Golden Key (1939)

While reviewing Pinocchio: A True Story, we touched upon the fact Tolstoy created his own take on the story of Pinocchio when introducing it to russian children in 1936, calling it The Golden Key Or The Adventures of “Buratino” (taken from the italian “burattino”, a term lifted from the commedia dell’arte and that indicates a wooden doll/puppet), which also became an iconic piece of children literature during the Soviet Union and it’s still remembered in Russia to this day.

So of course there were film adaptations of the “Russian rejigged Pinocchio”, and today we’re taking to task the first one ever, done in 1939 by the legendary soviet director and stop-motion master animator Aleksndr Pthusko, which fellow “MSTies” might remember for his later fantasy epics and adaptations of popular russian (and finnish as well with the Kalevala based “Sampo”) fairytales, from The Stone Flower to Sadko (absurdly retitled The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad) and of course Ilya Muromets (there’s a Fate joke here, but i ain’t touching it).

Without forgetting the more well known film that often overshadows this one, The New Gulliver, released 4 years priors, which got Pthusko praised by fellow legend animator Ray Harryhausen.

Simply titled “The Golden Key”, this 1939 sound film uses a combination of live action and stop motion animation, and quite an impressive one for the era, not just in terms of the stop-motion itself, but also in how well its mixed in with the live footage through all the old visual tricks cinema had at the time to portray giants and small creatures in prospective to a normal human sized world.

Not Ptusko’s best, but still very good work indeed.

Sure, Buratino itself looks quite creepy, but it’s that kind of impressively creepy that just a product of stop-motion, and it does not undermine the incredible craft seen here, as “Pinoski” isn’t the only character animated via the old, painstakingly laborious process, as we get also the Cat & Fox, an evil rat, frogs, baby turtles, and so on.


Speaking of the characters and such, i must say that i’m NOT familiar with this version/revised take on the story of Pinocchio, so ironically i can’t compare how much this adaptation differs from The Golden Key/Adventures of Buratino, despite knowing very well the original story this is based on.

Hence i’m gonna try and see what elements of Pinocchio survived the double adaptation treatement we’re dealing with here.

The main gist of the plot refocuses Pinocchio’s sequence of adventures with a central plot beat of the “golden key”, which can open a mysterious door to a country where all children go to school and old people live well, so the formative element is reframed, and many of the characters from Collodi’s version are present and serving similar (if not identical) roles, like the Cat and Fox equivalents, but this movie’s Mangiafuoco, Karabas Barabas, is actually made to be the central villain, searching for the lock where to put the Golden Key he possesses, aided by his klutzy sidekick, Duremar, a village knave who sells leeches in his water bowl thingie.

Kinda surprising how some of the details from Collodi’s version make the jump unscathed where as in many non-russian adaptations are omitted, like how Pinocchio manifests itself initially as a talking piece of wood, leaving the woodworker to think he’s allucinating or too drunk, so he gets rid of it by gifting it to Geppetto (or this movie equivalent, Papa Carlo, a barrel organ player).

Real Boy ratio:

In terms of actual fidelity, this version it’s a lot less moralistic, or gruesome, as Tolstoy axed the Whale and Land Of Toys subplots entirely, and in general all parts that at the time were considered too graphic or excessively grim for a children’s book, and in return there’s a lot more fantasy stuff and more of a carefree adventure for Buratino/Pinocchio, without the heavily handed moral that he should behave if he ever wants to be a real boy (and also stay out of trouble)… because Buratino never becomes a blood-und-flesh human kid, nor was he ever promised such a thing to begin with or ever wanted to.

Big wood energy, if you will, even if his nose growing isn’t a thing here.

Yeah, there is a magical fairy equivalent (a talking pond turtle called Aunt Tortilla) that helps Buratino in his quest, and despite the many borrowed elements and similar story progression, that changes towards the end as the finale is quite different, involving a magical book and a flying ship, so yeah, at heart this isn’t really THAT much Pinocchio despite everything, but indeed The Golden Key, and i gotta say, if i did grew up with just the Russian revision-take, there’s a solid chance i’d probably still hold it in great regard, at least on a nostalgic level.

Again, i didn’t red The Golden Key, but if this Pthusko’s adaptation is anything to go by, i’m not sure it’s worth being called a “knock off” of the original Collodi story’, even if it IS derived from it, absolutely, but judging the movie on its own merits, i’d say this is a good adventure fantasy children film for its time, looks very good and well presented, with simple yet elegants sets, music is nicely orchestrated and the folk-ish “Golden Key song/theme” is incredibly pleasing.

Solid acting, decent voices, though some are a bit more squeakish to my liking (Buratino’s, for example), but you get used to it, and the direction is quite good, plus it’s a relatively short sit, with a 75/78 (depending on which of the restored versions you find online) minutes runtime, making it a very good film of its kind for the era, one that aged remarkably well and that will be up the alley of anyone that has any vague interest in Pinocchio, early stop-motion animation, fantasy soviet cinema, Aleksandr Ptushko’ fans, or all of the above.

It can be found on Youtube but do a bit of research as some uploads do have subtitles, but like the one i used, the subtitles can be unbelievably offsync, and i since i don’t speak nor understand russian…. i almost could not have bothered with the subs anyway.



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