Truth and Movies

Pinocchio

Review by Lillian Crawford @lillcrawf

Directed by

Matteo Garrone

Starring

Federico Ielapi Roberto Benigni Rocco Papaleo

Anticipation.

When you wish upon a star for an update on Pinocchio, three come along at once.

Enjoyment.

Just like the Disney classic, this is a film to fall in love with.

In Retrospect.

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, Garrone’s won for me.

Matteo Garrone’s live-action retelling of the classic Italian fairy tale is a dream come true.

You probably think you know this story. It’s been told on screen before, including a 1972 TV miniseries starring Vittorio de Sica as a judge, and is being revived again in stop-motion by Guillermo del Toro and as a live-action remake of the 1940 Disney classic by Robert Zemeckis. It’s surprising that, given the tale’s origins, there hasn’t been a successful big-budget Italian adaptation until now. It’s a shame, then, that Matteo Garrone’s version will be overshadowed by English-language takes.

Garrone and Massimo Ceccherini’s screenplay sticks closely to Carlo Collodi’s original story, published in 1883, which is even darker than the disturbing Disney version. Beyond donkey transformations and terrifying whales, the eponymous marionette himself is initially an unlikeable hero who runs away from his creator, Geppetto, as soon as he’s given legs.

Collodi’s original ending had Pinocchio hung by the Fox and the Cat as a warning to naughty children, an event disturbingly staged in the film, although at the insistence of his editor Collodi revived the character for more stories about his path to redemption. Given the grisly anthology of fables Garrone used in Tale of Tales, it’s hardly surprising his take on Pinocchio errs more on the side of Collodi than Disney.

Having directed a flopped 2002 version, for which his Pinocchio was bizarrely dubbed over in English by Seth Meyers, Roberto Benigni is better suited to an actor’s life here as Geppetto. While we assume he is carving the magic puppet in the opening scene, he is instead freeing what few edible crumbs he can salvage from a rind of cheese.

Unlike the bountiful business of Disney’s toymaker, Garrone is unafraid to bring the adult grit of his urban dramas like Gomorrah or Dogman to this family-friendly sojourn. When a cricket shows up trying to serve as his conscience, Pinocchio lobs a mallet at his head before he can so much as give a little whistle. He’s certainly got no strings.

While the detailed prosthetics on Federico Ielapi make him almost too humanoid to be a puppet, it makes him easier to empathise with than the frightening wooden doll used in Steve Baron’s 1996 The Adventures of Pinocchio. Given the film clocks in at just over two hours, it’s a testament to Ielapi’s infantile charm that our engagement is sustained. It feels like an extension of Garrone’s own investment in the story – he claims to have drawn the first storyboard when he was six years old.

Pinocchio is a celebration of a fantastical world seen through a child’s eyes, smattered with boyish humour such as a squeaky-voiced professor trying to get a frog out of his pants. The result is a visual feast of candy-coloured circuses and breath-taking practical effects from talking tuna fish and bunny undertakers to a giant snail maid and a marionette show. Garrone makes every set piece feel like a dream come true.

By the time the Fairy with Turquoise Hair (Marine Vacth) turns Pinocchio into a human boy, we’ve long since forgotten his early misbehaviour. It’s a beautiful moment, a simple message of redemption that affirms the tale’s timeless relevance. While its success outside Italy remains to be seen, del Toro and Zemeckis will have to pull a lot of strings to better Garrone.

Published 12 Aug 2020

Tags: Carlo Collodi Guillermo del Toro Massimo Ceccherini Matteo Garrone Pinocchio Robert Zemeckis Roberto Benigni

Anticipation.

When you wish upon a star for an update on Pinocchio, three come along at once.

Enjoyment.

Just like the Disney classic, this is a film to fall in love with.

In Retrospect.

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, Garrone’s won for me.

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