Post #19: “There Are No Strings On Me”: Pinocchio and Ultron in the ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Trailers

Post #19: “There Are No Strings On Me”: Pinocchio and Ultron in the ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Trailers

By Vincent Tomasso
Originally posted Sunday, February 22, 2015

“Ultron?!”
“In the flesh!”
--Bruce Banner and Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer #2

The Disney-Marvel synergy is complete. In the teaser trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron Disney allowed the use of the song “I’ve Got No Strings” (lyrics) from their 1940 animated classic Pinocchio. A creepy, horror-movie voice (is it just Dickie Jones, the original voice actor, distorted with Auto-Tune?) sings the following lines:

I’ve got no strings
To hold me down,
To make me fret, or make me frown.

A few seconds later, in his first confrontation with the Avengers, Ultron calls them ”puppets…tangled in strings...strings.” The eerie voice starts in again with “I had strings”, and Ultron joins it with “But now I’m free” and completes the stanza alone: “There are no strings on me.”

Like many others, I was afraid when Disney announced that they had purchased Marvel in 2009--that Marvel products would be Disney-fied, watered down, silly. So far, though, our collective fears have been unrealized. And the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers show how Marvel actually gains from Disney.

Figure 1: No strings attached.

Figure 1: No strings attached.

Pinocchio sings “I’ve Got No Strings” in his first appearance on stage in Stromboli’s Marionette Theater. At first he appears to be a regular marionette attached to strings, but as soon as he begins his song, he effortlessly detaches himself from them (figure 1). Pinocchio had been persuaded to become an actor by Honest John the fox and Gideon the cat, who caught the puppet on his way to school, following the wishes of his inventor/father Gepetto.

As he eats various delicacies from a wicked-looking and impossibly-large knife and counts his profits after the show, Stromboli parodies Pinocchio’s song: “I eat the best and I drink champagne! I got on strings on me!” Stromboli’s hedonistic alterations to the relatively innocent lyrics of “I’ve Got No Strings” suggests that Pinocchio didn’t grasp the implications of his earlier words, and, indeed, the puppet’s carefree attitude is shattered when Stomboli imprisons him in a bird cage (figure 2).

Figure 2: Pinocchio’s metaphorical imprisonment is literalized in Stromboli’s wagon.

Figure 2: Pinocchio’s metaphorical imprisonment is literalized in Stromboli’s wagon.

Figure 3: Pinocchio transcends his wooden origins.

Figure 3: Pinocchio transcends his wooden origins.

At this early point in the film, “I’ve Got No Strings” refers to Pinocchio’s giving full rein to his individual whims, in addition to the more obvious celebration of his new-found animation that has literally freed him from the strings originally attached to him by Gepetto. But despite its fun and fancy-free melody, the song shows Pinocchio to be in fact entangled in Stromboli’s strings, selfish, and still far from his goal of becoming “a real boy.” a transformation effected at the end of the film by the Blue Fairy (figure 3). When Pinocchio saves Gepetto from Monstro at his own peril and rejects his selfish inner desires represented by Stromboli and Pleasure Island, he is worthy to have a real human soul. “I’ve Got No Strings” thus represents what Pinocchio’s greatest antagonist--himself.

Like Gepetto, Tony Stark gives Ultron “life”--apparently to combat a force or forces “more powerful than any of us”--and when Ultron calls the gathered Avengers “puppets”, he looks like a puppet himself, with wires dangling from his gesticulating arms as he crushes the head of an earlier model of himself (?) (figure 4).

Figure 4: Ultron rejects his puppet heritage.

Figure 4: Ultron rejects his puppet heritage.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron teaser creates a stark (pun intended) contrast with the innocence and naïveté of the Disney character. Indeed, although the original 1883 original Italian story is disturbing enough, with scenes like the puppet almost getting fried alive by the hulking Green Fisherman, the Disney version is considerably more innocent, and the twisted fairy-tale vibe of this teaser reminds us that these aren’t your daddy’s Avengers that took their first bow in 1963 (when perhaps the Disney analogy was not that far off).

Ultron’s quotation of “I’ve Got No Strings”, then, is quite ironic: whereas he has freed himself from the “strings” imposed by Tony’s programming, he’s the opposite of Pinocchio. He doesn’t want to become a member of the human race; he wants to destroy it. Audience members who know Disney’s Pinocchio have clues about Ultron’s character months before the actual film is released, and Ultron’s desire to change the world is given additional depth. This is an example of how trailers make meaning, sometimes quite independent of the movie they’re advertising--see the fantastic Show Sold Separately by Dr. Jonathan Gray for more on this phenomenon.

A February 2015 trailer for the film doesn’t have any of the explicit references to Pinocchio that the teaser does, though it retains the theme subtly: its music derives from “I’ve Got No Strings”, but in a different key. We’ll have to wait until May to see how much (or little) the final cut of Avengers: Age of Ultron embraces the Pinocchio theme. In any event, I’m quite happy with how the Marvel-Disney merger is being used in creatively productive ways. Now, if only Disney can be convinced to allow Star Wars references in Marvel’s sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy...

Post #20: The Raw and the Cooked in Disney’s ‘Hercules’

Post #20: The Raw and the Cooked in Disney’s ‘Hercules’

Post #18: Homer Simpson’s ‘Odyssey’

Post #18: Homer Simpson’s ‘Odyssey’