The Coachman is the third antagonist of Disney's 1940 animated feature film, Pinocchio. He is a sinister, shadowy figure who is notorious for luring "stupid little boys" to Pleasure Island, where they are transformed into donkeys and sold on the black market.
The Coachman is one of the most evil, malevolent, hateful, cruel, sinister, and dangerous Disney Villains wholly with no redeeming qualities, namely by his wicked actions, greed and his pleasure in destroying children's lives. However, he could also be considered to be somewhat moralistic in his own dark and twisted way, as he teaches the boys a pricey lesson for prolonged misbehavior. He does not appear to be a kidnapper nor force the boys to accompany him to Pleasure Island as all seem to go there on their own accord, thus sealing their own fate. However, he at least allows rumors of the "wonders" of his island to be spread to the public and thus entice troublesome boys, like Lampwick, into the trap; exemplifying his devious cunning.
He genuinely seems to hate the bad behavior displayed by the boys on the island and seems to specifically only target disobedient, selfish boys who wish to indulge in trouble for pure enjoyment. Compared to Stromboli, he appears to be slightly less greedy and actually compensates those who aid him in his wicked plans well, as he offered a substantial amount of gold to Honest John and Gideon for bringing him troublesome boys to take to the island, which far exceeds what Stromboli gave them for Pinocchio. However, he is not above intimidating those whom he hires to do his bidding as seen by him frightening both Honest John and Gideon with his demonic face and warning them not to double cross him.
Like most Disney Villains, the Coachman is incredibly sadistic, enjoying other people's pain and is also very cruel, brutally whipping his goons and selling young boys that come to his island into slavery so that he can make money off of them and shows no concern for the cruel life (and eventual death) that awaits them in slavery. He completely ignores their pain and despair and justifies his actions by claiming their slavery is payment for their ill behavior displayed on Pleasure Island. However, it is clear that attaining wealth is his primary motive, as he transformed the boys into donkeys specifically to end up in jobs at circuses or salt mines and also to reflect their inner, troublesome nature.
The Coachman is first seen sitting at a table in the bar of The Red Lobster Inn with Honest John and Gideon. He puffs quietly on his pipe, listening quietly and intently as John proudly recalls selling Pinocchio to Stromboli, a greedy puppeteer. The fox then produces a small bag of gold coins - Stromboli's payment - as proof of his success and inquires about the Coachman's business. The Coachman gets the attention of the two when he places a huge bag of gold coins, promising them "some real money" if they help him. He tells the fox and cat that he is collecting "stupid little boys" to take to Pleasure Island. John is frightened at the mention of Pleasure Island, and he and Gideon jump in terror when the Coachman maniacally laughs about his wicked business. He tells the two crooks to meet him with any "good prospects" they find at the crossroads of the village, where he will be waiting with his stagecoach, which is pulled by six donkeys; he promises to pay them well. John and Gideon end up taking to the Coachman Pinocchio (who has just escaped Stromboli). Jiminy Cricket, fearing for Pinocchio's safety, stows away aboard the coach, unnoticed either by the Coachman or his passengers.
The Coachman takes the coachload of boys, including Pinocchio and Lampwick, to a ferry bound for Pleasure Island, a naughty boys' paradise, where the boys are free to run riot without fear of reprimand from adults or mature teenagers until they turn into donkeys for the Coachman to sell into slavery. The Coachman whips his goons, ordering them to shut the gates, trapping the boys on the island. Later that night, Jiminy Cricket finds the Coachman's minions loading crates of donkeys onto boats. The Coachman examines every donkey, first checking that it can no longer talk by asking its name, then, if the response is a bray, ripping off the creature's remaining clothes before throwing the animals into crates for his minions to put on the ship. One donkey, Alexander, can still talk, and cries to be allowed to go home. The Coachman throws Alexander into a pen of donkeys that likewise can still talk; these donkeys are presumably kept by the Coachman until they finally lose their voices. Alexander and the other talking boys continue to beg for their freedom and become human again, but the Coachman rushes to the pen and instantly silences them with a loud crack of his whip, loudly barking at them to be quiet before angrily reminding them that they were already allowed to have all the fun they desired on the island and must now pay the price for it.
At this point, Jiminy realizes the fate of Pleasure Island's visitors and rushes to warn Pinocchio. Though Lampwick is transformed into a donkey, Pinocchio, despite growing donkey ears and a tail, manages to escape the island with Jiminy's help. After that, the Coachman is not seen again throughout the rest of the film though it can be assumed he captured Lampwick at some point later and profiteered greatly from the haul of boys-turned donkeys sold into slavery.
The Coachman appears in this live action spin-off. In this iteration, however he is called The Ringleader and is much younger, agile and slightly less menacing, yet nonetheless dangerous, being portrayed by Usher. He and his henchmen charm and encourage the boys into acting like "Jackasses", using his songs and showmanship to mesmerize and coax them onto the rollercoaster, which is stated as the factor that turns boys into donkeys.
20 years ago, his days of turning boys into donkeys were over. He was imprisoned in the Isle of Lost, where he works as a taxi driver. His taxi is a chariot with regular donkeys. But before imprisonment, he spent a year as punishment trying to find all the children he turned into donkeys.
The Coachman appears in Pinocchio's Daring Journey and its Pleasure Island scenes. At one point, he tries to trap the riders in a giant crate to keep them from escaping.
He was also once a walk-around character but has since been retired.
- Charles Judels, the voice of the Coachman, also did the voice of Stromboli.
- The Coachman did get his comeuppance in the Genesis and SNES Pinocchio video game, where Pinocchio kicks him down a cliff.
- In one crossover comic, Mickey Mouse was washed on the shores of Pleasure Island after a storm. The amusement park had fallen into disrepair, and Mickey noted that it seemed to have been abandoned for a long time. This might hint that the Coachman did, indeed, meet his demise at some point, which is further supported by his not appearing amongst the many Disney villains who meet up earlier in the story.
- The Coachman might not be human. Some possible hints at this being the demonic face he makes when revealing his plan, his shadowy minions who may not be human either and the fact that he has four fingers on each hand while every other human characters in the film has five. The Coachman could very well be a demon in disguise or at least has access to magic since he is clearly responsible for the transformation of all the boys who went to Pleasure Island.
- In an annotated English edition of the original novel, the Coachman has been compared to Mephistopheles, the demon prince in the classic tale of Dr. Faustus. His boy victims, like Faustus, in effect sell their souls to the Coachman for a life of unlicensed pleasure and, like the devil, the Coachman is there at the end to foreclose the deal.
- In the original story, the donkey transformation is actually caused by a disease that affects people who never study (in Italian culture, the donkey is symbolic of ignorance, stupidity and goofiness) and take roughly five months. The Coachman has become a millionaire by selling children for the donkey trade.
- The Coachman may be the only English character in Pinocchio, speaking in a Cockney accent.
- In the original Italian story of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, the Coachman was usually referred to as "The Little Buttery Man" ("L'Omino del Burro"), and he actually drove a large wagon instead of a coach. He was also described as a fat little man who resembled a walking butterball (hence his name), with a small round face like an orange, a red cherry-like nose, and a mouth that was always smiling sweetly. He spoke in a soft, purring voice "like a cat trying to ingratiate itself into its' owner's good graces." He also was rather effeminate in manner, clucking like a mother hen and addressing his prospective young passengers as "my dears" and "my darlings". Yet for all that he was even more devious and sadistic than his Disney counterpart, as displayed when he bites one of his boy-turned-donkeys' ears off while pretending to kiss him.
- In the final movie, the Coachman never notices Pinocchio's escape, but in some adaptations and scrapped ideas he sends his minion to chase them. This idea was later used in the Pinocchio video game.
- Also, there was a deleted scene where the Coachman hires Honest John and Gideon one last time to bring Pinocchio back to him so that "the law doesn't learn of their business". This later led to Honest John and Gideon's arrest when they tried to swindle Pinocchio a third time, also cut from the film.
- According to one of the books of Pinocchio the Coachman's real name is "Barker".
- In one comic book adaptation of Pinocchio, the Coachman makes his offer to Honest John and Gideon after eavesdropping on a conversation they were having about their sale of Pinocchio to Stromboli, rather than listening to John tell the Coachman himself.