This latest adaptation of Pinocchio, from director Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah, Tale of Tales), is pretty much what I wanted this movie to be.
The last adaptation of this story I remember watching was in 2002: it shared the same title, it was also Italian-made, and it was helmed by Academy Award winner Roberto Benigni. It became infamous in North American and was nominated for several Razzie awards the following year (with Benigni picking up Worst Actor, sharing the dishonour with Rat Race’s Breckin Meyer who provided Benigni’s dubbed English voice). People were too hard on 2002’s Pinocchio though. Benigni conceived a family-friendly flick that had friendly childlike energy and a beautiful visual palette. However, it was torpedoed by a horrible North American dub by a random celebrity guest list; with each actor competing to be the most obnoxious voice.
Even though I think 2002’s version is marginally underrated, its interpretation of Pinocchio does drop the ball. Roberto Benigni represented each event in Pinocchio’s life with a sense of wonderment and amazement. Expected, but this is only one side of Pinocchio. What Benigni didn’t recognize was just how frightening this story is. Along with the story’s affection, Garrone’s Pinocchio does indeed acknowledge how scary these adventures are – perhaps too well and to the film’s detriment.
The make-up effects (which earned the film an Oscar nomination earlier this year) are uncanny. While young Federico Ielapi gives a brilliant physical performance as the title character, the actor’s disguise is what truly seals the deal for the audience. But no matter what age you are, it’s disturbing to see Pinocchio convincingly burn off his legs in a fireplace, for instance. Or, encounter other puppets or creatures that look as spookily real as he does. Garrone’s Pinocchio isn’t suitable for young children (leave them with Disney’s timeless classic), but pre-teens who found Maleficent interesting may be intrigued by it. But then again, this really isn’t suitable for anyone creeped out by the uncanny valley effect this movie prides itself with.
Underneath its effects though is an appreciative approach to a familiar story. Touches of realism around the fantastical elements don’t feel like too much of a diversion away from what makes this story so attractive and entertaining. Benigni has also been recruited to portray Pinocchio’s father Geppetto, and he fits in flawlessly with his endearing demeanour. It’s a treat for people who believed all along in Benigni’s passion for this classic tale.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie