Directed by Matteo Garrone.
Starring Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Marine Vacth, Massimo Ceccherini and Rocco Papaleo.
A wooden puppet that has been brought to life must learn lessons in living before he can become a real boy.
Everyone knows the story of the puppet who wants to be a real boy. That’s less of an exaggeration than it may seem: Carlo Collodi’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio was originally published in 1883, and has since been translated into over 300 languages. Reportedly, it is one of the widest read non-religious books of all time. And that’s before considering the ultra-famous Disney film adaptation made 80 years ago. So, what about this well known and oft repeated story – filled with fantasy and wonder – would attract a director known for his dark, uncompromising pictures?
That isn’t to say that Italian auteur Matteo Garrone has no experience in fantastical realms – 2015’s Tale of Tales was a masterclass in the gothic movement of children’s literature in the 1800s. But Pinocchio is an altogether different beast. Closer to the source material than previous adaptations, Garrone’s film sees starving carpenter Geppetto’s world change when he decides to carve a beautiful marionette from a log seemingly imbued with magical movement.
In line with Pinocchio’s original similarity to many of Grimm’s fairy tales, there was potential here for something delightfully dark. But Garrone’s approach, somewhat uncharacteristically, is a much lighter touch. Assisted by the ever affable Roberto Benigni, the piece mines delightful comedy in the naturalistic interactions, as well as in the ridiculous actions of garish creations that populate Pinocchio’s journey. Any parallel with de Sica’s neo-realism in the beginning is dispatched with hastily, as the cold greys of rural Italian life give way to something entirely more intoxicating. The feature oscillates from gold saturated days to the enticing green of twilight, never losing the boyish red of Pinocchio’s jacket or wasting the beautiful blue of the fairy’s hair. If the splendid production design wasn’t enough, the make up dazzles – particularly the range of anthropomorphic creatures and Pinocchio’s own wooden façade. Every aspect of the exquisite design adds to the wondrous sense of childlike imagination. Yet still, some underlying propellant feels absent.
The film is carried on a sweet mixture of simplicity and whimsy, but lacks the energetic sense adventure needed to invite the audience on a journey with Pinocchio as he comes of age. The magic is there, but it doesn’t feel electric. Perhaps it’s the inherent didactic nature of the story – it is, after all, a cautionary tale to little children everywhere. Somewhere between the warnings from the cricket that Pinocchio ignores, between the multiple occasions on which he is rescued from wrongdoing by his enchanting benefactor, the film abandons any attempt at nuance. Instead, Garrone sticks by the book, lamely repeating a fable now nearly 140 years old.
The story is well known, there is no doubt about it. Perhaps familiarity with the 40’s animated film and not with Collodi’s book may mean something of intrigue can be mined from the plot. But besides the no less than brilliant aesthetic detail, Pinnochio delivers little more than any comparable live-action remake that Disney has poured money into in the last few years. Though Garrone unquestionably deserves the title of auteur, this move is unadventurous. His film will, for now at least, be described as an update on a classic tale. If only it was delivering on the update aspect of that description.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★