During the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, director Matteo Garrone took us to the Italy’s dark side filled with drugs, violence, and mobs in his “Dogman”. Now, he shows us a totally different world. One that was originally created by Carlo Collodi, the writer of the children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio” and brought to life for the first time by Disney in 1940.
Yep, we’re talking about Pinocchio, the enchanting story of a wooden puppet who wants to become a real boy. As dark, sinister, and brutal “Dogman” was, as light, heart-warming, and beautiful “Pinocchio” is.
Life isn’t easy for the Italian carpenter Geppetto (Roberto Benigni). He barely makes a living, is all alone and no one seems to appreciate his high-quality products. After seeing a puppet theatre in town, he finds himself drawn to the idea of making his own puppet. He can get his hands on a log of wood that will change his life in more ways than one.
After creating a lovely wooden puppet, Geppetto finds out that his ‘son’ Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi) can actually talk. Geppetto has now become a ‘babo’ and does everything for his son: teaches him to walk, talk, and behave.
However, Pinocchio is everything but obedient. Just like any little boy, he doesn’t want to go to school and wants to discover the world instead. After seeing the puppet play, his own adventure starts. It takes him far away from his ‘babo’ and the city he grew up in. He makes friends alongside the way, such as a fairy and a cricket, but there are also enemies taking advantage of his innocence, his few possessions, and his naivety. The criminals get him into trouble and it becomes even worse when he’s being sentenced to prison. His life is for once hanging on threads.
Because of the original work and its adaptations, we all know how this story ends so there’s nothing new under the sun. There are many reasons why Garrone’s version outshines Disney’s “Pinocchio” but the movie sadly has its flaws as well.
This newest version stays much closer to the original work as it embraces the grotesque and darker element of the story. Torture, pain, despair, and being exploited are grown-up topics that take the authenticity to a higher level.
However, that familiarity with the story is also one of the flaws of this movie. The fact that we’ve probably all heard or read Pinocchio’s story is something that director Garrone takes a little too much for granted. The scenes and events are following up each other in record time due to which the movie doesn’t allow the audience to take in what’s happening. Therefore, it all feels rushed and the captivating element is missing a little bit. Nevertheless, the wondrous moments between Geppetto and Pinocchio are just too wonderful not to be touched by.
That poignancy is established by the pleasant performances by Benigni (“La Vita E Bella”, “The Tiger and the Snow”) and Ielapi (“Don Matteo”, “Quo vado?”). The first one is no stranger to this fairy-tale as he directed a Pinocchio film in 2002 in which he also played the lead. While that performance might not have been a pleasure to watch, this one as the aged, heartbroken, and secluded Geppetto is. Benigni literally gives a more mature, emotional, and restrained performance that charms you the whole way through this movie.
While just only having a handful of acting credits under his name, Ielapi is such a pleasure to watch. He brings the cuteness and innocence of Pinocchio beautifully to life. That charming feeling is also provided by both Alida Baldari Calabria (“Dogman”, “Guarda in alto”) and Marine Vacth (“If You Saw His Heart”, “Double Lover”) who play the young and the adult version of the fairy. Calabria increases the adorability even more while Vacth adds a more grown-up and enchanting element to this movie.
There’s also a smaller role for Jiminy Cricket but sadly, that’s where this movie falls a little bit short. Instead of creating a vibrant and fun cricket, the character looks more like a big caterpillar which gives you the creeps sometimes. This is caused by the rough CGI. While the special effects bring Pinocchio actractivelly to life, the team should have to spend a little bit more time on building the supporting characters in the same gorgeous way.
That being said, the scenery and scene staging is mesmerizing, especially when it comes to the puppet theatre. The details are being well-thought-of and it’s clear that the entire team tried everything to do this well-known story justice.
While the original work by Collodi already dates back to 1883, it still very much alive these days. There’s Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming animated version for Netflix and Disney is making another remake, a live-action version this time. Who will win the battle of the wooden puppet wanting to be a boy? Well, that will become clear over the coming years. First up is Matteo Garrone’s new live-action film and despite its flaws, “Pinocchio” is still a wonderful, charming, and fun creation.