Many of us know the character of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy, from the 1940 award-winning Disney animation. Unlike other Disney animated features such as SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937) or CINDERELLA (1950) the story wasn’t based on a folk tale adapted by the Brothers Grimm. Pinocchio comes from an 1883 children’s book by Italian writer Carlo Collodi. The original character was a wooden puppet made by the poor, ageing woodcarver, Geppetto. Collodi’s Pinocchio was conceived as a mischievous rascal, prone to bad behaviour and lying. The Disney version was a more innocent and sweet character, than the original. In the adaptation process, Walt Disney felt certain parts of the tale needed to be toned down for American audiences in 1940.
The latest big screen version of the story PINNOCHIO (2019) is a live-action film from Italy that depicts a character more in keeping with Collodi’s book. Co-writer and director Matteo Garrone has been working for years on an adaptation faithful to the source material and aimed at both adults and children. This Pinocchio, as soon as he is carved out of a living log, is self-centred and filled with a magical life-force. Pinocchio is a wooden puppet, not a boy, so although he can run, talk and make an impact on the world almost immediately, he has no guidance about how to live in the world. After some incidents, he wants to be good and do the best by his father Geppetto. His task is to go to school and learn his lessons, but life offers many distractions; coins, puppet shows, a cat, a fox, other children and a hundred-year-old talking cricket – any of these might stop Pinocchio from getting an education.
Garrone’s film gives us a beautifully realised version of 19th Century rural Italy, but the poverty of Geppetto and his neighbours runs underneath everything, affecting their choices and outlook. Geppetto makes sacrifices so his wooden puppet-son can be educated, and slowly, Pinocchio learns to love his father in the way a real boy might. As with much children’s literature of the era, there is moral instruction built into Collodi’s tale. In the 21st Century, we expect stories to go beyond lecturing and we look for them to deliver some emotional truths, too. Garrone’s movie manages to both pay tribute to Collodi’s work and offer something to contemporary audiences.
Roberto Benigni, best known internationally for his award-winning film LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1997) in which he starred, wrote and directed, does a wonderful job in the role of Geppetto. As a performer, he has tended to divide audiences. Some find his earlier work over-the-top, others compared him favourably to silent comedians Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Here, his Geppetto is all love and tenderness towards his unexpected, late-in-life son. Child-actor Federico Ielapi is excellent as Pinocchio. Garrone’s assured handling of the numerous supporting roles, creates moments that keep the audience engaged.
Mark Coulier’s prosthetic make-up for Pinocchio is outstanding and greatly aids our belief in Ielapi’s wooden existence. The film’s music, cinematography, visual effects, wardrobe and production design are all first-rate. The writing of this adaptation (co-written by Massimo Ceccherini) is excellent. We are drawn into a surprising world, uncertain of where a scene might take us. Light, dark, comedy, beauty – these elements are offered through this journey. Garrone and his team have created an entertaining version of this iconic Italian tale, that impresses in all departments. Running time: 125 minutes (8.5/10)
PINOCCHIO will screen at the ST. Ali Italian Film Festival 2020 in October, around Australia. It will be the opening film tonight (Thursday October 1st) in Canberra, Brisbane and Perth.