Something that has always struck me when watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was this apparent reference in John Williams' main theme (starting at 4:28) to Leigh Harline and Ned Washington's When You Wish upon a Star as used in Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

Does anyone know if this is indeed a homage, and, if so, why this particular motif was used?

My current guess is that it's (early) Spielberg's love for infusing his films with a certain amount of 'fairy-taleness', and naivete (in the purely positive sense), and the obvious reference to space as a benevolent force, but I'm sure Williams could have achieved those things with his own creative force alone.

Some additional trivia:
Richard Dreyfuss's character Roy Neary has a relatively lengthy conversation with his oldest son, Brad, about going to see Pinocchio. Apparently Spielberg, with this seemingly trivial and chaotic scene, is already preparing the audience's subconsciousness in preparation for the theme. (Transcript can be found here).

1 Answer 1


In an 1998 interview with Ian Lace, John Williams explained

"In this spirit, the idea to incorporate When You Wish Upon A Star was Spielberg's. I think for him, it had something to do with the innocence of childhood and Walt Disney's music, especially Pinocchio, that we all loved as children. He wanted to attach that childhood innocence to a feeling of nostalgia that would effect an audience. So, in a situation that is alien - completely remote from our experience - seeing these creatures and their machines but hearing something very familiar, When You Wish Upon A Star, you feel safe and at home."

Steven Spielberg said

On Close Encounters, I had a very important decision to make: whether or not to use the Walt Disney song, "When You Wish Upon a Star" at the end of the movie, with Jiminy Cricket's actual voice performing it. And the only way I could tell was to have two different previews, on two different nights: one night with the song, one night without it. I then analyzed the preview cards very carefully, interviewed the people who left the theater, and made a determination that the audience wanted to be transported into another world along with Richard Dreyfuss as he walked aboard the mothership. They didn't want to be told the film was a fantasy, and this song seemed to belie some of the authenticity and to bespeak fantasy and fairy tale. And I didn't want Close Encounters to end just in a dream.

Source: Steven Spielberg's Steven Spielberg: Interviews, University of Mississippi Press / Jackson, 2000, pp. 96-97 (possibly with Susan Royal in 1982, interviewer is "Premiere").

  • 11
    Wow -- "A/B Testing" in 1977! I thought it was a more recent marketing tool. Feb 21, 2019 at 15:38
  • Surprised me too, but no-one ever called Spielberg 'slow of thinking'. ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 21, 2019 at 18:39
  • I'm very glad he opted for the voiceless version, though.
    – Joachim
    Feb 22, 2019 at 10:03

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