A poor Italian carpenter named Geppetto (Roberto Benigni – ‘Life is Beautiful’), after seeing the popularity of a local puppet show, decides to build a puppet to give him a chance to earn money and travel. He builds the puppet from a magic log and soon the figure comes to life. Ecstatic to have a son at last, Geppetto names the puppet Pinocchio, but the little guy quickly gets into trouble after skipping school and attending the puppet show. He gets kidnapped and thus goes on an arduous journey to get back home to his father. Along the way, Pinocchio encounters wonders as well as danger, and meets many strange and marvellous characters.
‘Pinocchio’ has been adapted for film numerous times at this point but the 1940 Disney version remains the best known and most popular take. This version is Italian, which is interesting as it takes the story back to its national roots (and one advises you to check whether the version you’re seeing is dubbed or in Italian with English subtitles as the latter is obviously not ideal for young audience members), given the original novel was penned by Carlo Collodi. It’s directed surprisingly warmly by Matteo Garrone, and it’s surprising because Garrone would be best-known internationally for his violent gangster movie ‘Gomorrah’.
The CGI wooden texture of Pinocchio, it has to be remarked, is incredible. His eyes are a little creepy at first being so human looking but you quickly get used to them. Tonally this is a darker adaptation than you got from Disney. This is quickly established by the fact that upon getting chastised by Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio hurls a hammer at the creature’s head. Later, Pinocchio’s life is threatened throughout the film, be it by imprisonment, being burned to death, or hung. So yeah, that 12A rating attached to the feature is well earned.
The film is dark in cinematography and design as well as tone, though its second and third acts prove lighter and more enjoyable (or perhaps one is more settled into its unusual tone, which recalls ‘Alice in Wonderland’, at that point). The anthropomorphic characters are fascinatingly designed and there are moments of elation when Pinocchio embraces the simple pleasures of friendship and family. There is humour too and the scenes Pinocchio shares with the Snail and the Fairy prove particularly delightful. The most renowned parts of the story, such as the nose growing scene, characters such as the trickster Fox and Cat, and that beautiful, uplifting ending, are all there.
While Pinocchio typically gets a lucky break before things get too bleak, this particular adaptation of the classic is generally quite grim. Still, one can appreciate that it’s attempting to do something a bit different, and probably more in line with Collodi’s book. Moreover, it maintains that beautiful message of the original story – that no matter how many mistakes you make, or how badly you mess up, you always deserve another chance and can be redeemed (that’s a lesson arguably more important now in this social media age of “cancel culture” than ever…).