This review is brought to you in partnership with our friends at Vertigo Releasing
In 1883 Italian writer Carlo Collodi published The Adventures of Pinocchio; a magical wooden puppet desperate to become a real boy. The rural poverty of Tuscany and emerging industrialisation of Italy sitting at the heart of a story embedded in social change. Since that first publication, the character of Pinocchio has become an icon of children’s literature. However, the journey onto our screens has been less than smooth, with many solely associating the character with Disney’s 1940 film. Disney all but removing the darker themes of the book in creating a more lovable and ‘cuddly’ tale than Collodi’s story of survival, morality, and belonging.
Of course, that does not mean there have not been attempts to create a more accurate translation of the book. From TV and movies, through to animation and puppetry, Pinocchio has continued to be reborn in the media. His representation shifting and changing to reflect the time and style of each production. However, despite the multitude of content available, Collodi’s story has often failed to find an authentic yet welcoming voice.
But in recent years, a new race has begun to rectify this, from Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming animated version for Netflix to yet another live-action Disney remake. However, first out of the gate is Matteo Garrone’s new live-action film. The only one of the latest adaptations to have been filmed in Italy, the place of Pinocchio’s birth. And what a delight it is, as Collodi’s story finds a new voice in a sumptuous gothic fantasy. The artistry of Italian filmmaking helping to restore many of the darker elements of the book. While at the same time, surrounding its younger audience with fantastical creatures, luscious effects, and a heartwarming screenplay.
My only real bugbear is the dubbed English soundtrack, something I generally despise. However, in light of this being a family movie, I will accept that subtitles may not have worked in this instance. But despite this minor criticism, Garrone’s film shines with originality and magic. The films practical effects and complexity echoing many of the most-loved 1980s fantasy adventures. From The Never-Ending Story to Time Bandits and Legend, while wrapping this in a Tim Burton-Esqe love of gothic horror.
I am sure you all know the story, but for those who need it, here is a brief reminder. Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) is a lonely and penniless carpenter, living in seclusion. Searching for meaning and companionship, he decides to carve a lifelike puppet of a boy. Using a strangely animate hunk of wood that seems to have a life of its own. But little does he expect the resulting marionette to leap into life; his wish of having a son granted as he names the boy Pinocchio. The boy’s little red hat, shorts and top lovingly sewed from the coverings of an old armchair.
However, Pinocchio is also mischievous and rebellious; his understanding of the world not yet formed. And when a travelling circus comes to town, he finds himself swept away in its glamour. Disappearing into the night, and away from the safety and love of Gepetto’s workshop. However, realising his terrible mistake, Pinocchio slowly makes his way home, only to find Geppetto has left in search of him. And so starts a great adventure as Pinocchio navigates a dangerous world of desire, lies, love, and wonder in search of his dad.
Nicolai Bruel’s cinematography drenches proceedings with Italian warmth. From luscious olive groves to crumbling farmhouses and the crystal blue seas of the Mediterranean. While Dario Marianelli’s delicate score gently surrounds the film, enhancing the visual beauty and performances. But its Pinnochio himself who steals the show; young Federico Ielapi echoing the spirit and depth of Collodi’s creation. And when coupled with stunning makeup effects, the little wooden boy once again finds a place in our hearts.
At just over two hours in runtime, there are moments when Pinocchio feels slightly too long. While the dubbing, although considered and careful, can occasionally feel detached from the characters. However, this is a treasure of Italian cinema that doesn’t let your eyes leave the screen, wrapping you in both warmth and creativity. While also skirting the boundaries between fantasy, horror and folklore with love and respect for the source material. So get ready to be whisked away to a fantasy world of fairies and talking crickets, but always remember to return home to the safety and unconditional love of those you love.
Director: Matteo Garrone