He had the whole world in his hands -- the whole world, that is, of Pinocchio, including Gepetto, Jiminy Cricket, the Blue Fairy, and even bad old Monstro the whale. He had it in his hands because that's the way you fix an old movie: You run it through the projector of your fingertips, feeling for flaws, for fissures and cracks and accumulations of grit, all the banal little catastrophes that can destroy it.
And, tomorrow, when the immaculate, bright and nearly pristine "Pinocchio" opens on a thousand screens looking even newer than it looked in 1940, the world will get to judge how well Peter Comandini did his job.
Mr. Comandini, a vice president of YCM Labs in Burbank, Calif., which specializes in rescuing the movie past from decades of indifference, spent hours alone in a little room with clean hands (no oils) and the original 50-year-old negative of "Pinocchio." It was a touchy-feely kind of experience.
"You actually feel the film," he says over the telephone, "because that's the only way you can come across tears or scratches or accumulations of dirt."
He moved through the reels of nitrite negative, a frame at a time. When his fingers came across a flaw, he'd magnify it and begin the delicate process of repairing the flaw.
"You begin with cotton; if you can't get it with cotton, we move to wooden sticks; finally, we work with razor blades; you have to be very careful."
As in . . . Oops, there goes the famous nose-growing sequence!
But Mr. Comandini, who has been interested in film restoration his entire adult life, is far too crafty a veteran to have an accident; he restored both "Fantasia" and "Snow White."
"It's very hard work," he says. "It sounds so high tech, but basically it's just working with a 50-year-old strip of celluloid."
The high-tech stuff clicks in later. After restoring the negative, a new "master positive" is struck using a new printer technology that gets an even truer color transfer than was possible in 1940.
In fact, the tech has gotten so high that the process can fix flaws that were made in 1940 when Walt Disney himself oversaw the studio's second feature-length, animated, narrative film.
"When we got into it, we found errors in the color that were literally unfixable in the 1940s. Using computers, we were able to create what we call a 'light change address.' That is, we could change the value of the color to even things out. We were able to 'help' the shot. So what people will see in 1992 is technically better than what they could see in 1940."
Viewers will note, however, that the movie is square.
Square, that is, on the screen; the outer edges of the image have been masked, or covered, returning the image to its square configuration, which is the way it was originally composed. The masking effectively seals off today's standard rectangular format.
"When we restored 'Snow White,' " says Mr. Comandini, "we released it in [rectangular format], which meant that all the PTC information couldn't fit onto the screen. So we had to scan to stay with some of the movement -- when a flock of birds flew up to the sky -- and you should have heard the purists shriek. So Disney made the decision to rerelease 'Fantasia' and now 'Pinocchio' in the original format."
One of Mr. Comandini's favorite moments in "Pinocchio" is a sequence where the famous Disney multi-plane camera is deployed to its fullest extent.
"It's the most ambitious shot in any classic Disney animated feature, except possibly for the shot at the end of the 'Night on Bald Mountain' sequence in 'Fantasia,' and even that was shot full size on a sound stage."
In the shot Mr. Comandini recalls, the camera seems to pass through level after level of reality; actually, it's focusing through images painted on glass.
"When you finally get to the last level," Mr. Comandini says in awe, "you're actually looking through nine pieces of highly polished glass."