Based on the book Pinocchio: Tale of a Puppet by Carlo Collodi, it was made in response to the enormous success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The plot of the film involves a wooden puppet being brought to life by a blue fairy, who tells him he can become a real boy if he proves himself "brave, truthful, and unselfish". Thus begin the puppet's adventures to become a real boy, which involve many encounters with a host of unsavory characters.
The plan for the original film was considerably different from what was released. Numerous characters and plot points, many of which came from the original novel, were used in early drafts. Producer Walt Disney was displeased with the work that was being done and called a halt to the project midway into production so that the concept could be rethought and the characters redesigned.
Amongst the nipping and tucking, there were two longer scenes taken out. One included an extended scene of Pleasure Island. The other is of Geppetto telling Pinocchio of his grandfather, a pine tree. Although a flop initially, the 1945 re-release brought it into profit. Disney, more than any other studio, would effectively market re-releases to take advantage of its films reaching each new audience generation. This marketing plan would allow once costly flops (such as Fantasia, also released in 1940) to eventually post handsome profits. And since virtually all its pre-1959 animated library are considered classics, the studio is able to reap huge profits with the advent of new media formats and limited-time purchase availability within a particular format.
- Carlo Collodi, whose surname was really Carlo Lorenzini, was a journalist and rabble-rouser who settled down to write children's stories. He took his pen name from the town of his mother's birth, Collodi. When he originally published Pinocchio in the form of a magazine serial, Lorenzini's intention was to kill Pinocchio by having him hang himself. At the suggestion of his editor, Lorenzini added chapters sixteen to thirty-two, giving the story a happy ending and creating the character of the Blue Fairy.
- The Blue Fairy in Pinocchio (as well as the prince in Snow White) was created by using the rotoscope technique.
- Lampwick, the red-headed boy whom Pinocchio befriends at Pleasure Island is a caricature of Disney animator Fred Moore.
- When Pinocchio is changed into a real boy, his hands are transformed from three-fingered and white-gloved "Mickey Mouse" hands into four-fingered (plus thumb) human hands sans gloves. Wood-carver/dad Geppetto sports a full compliment of gnarly digits throughout this 1940 classic.
- The pool hall at Pleasure Island is in the shape of a giant eight ball with a tall cue-shaped structure standing nearby. This is a neat takeoff on the Trylon and the Perisphere at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
- Amongst the debris in the destruction house at Pleasure Island, a print of Leonardo Da Vinci's The Mona Lisa can be seen.