Italian carpenter Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) wants to make a living, travelling around the country as a puppeteer. When he crafts a puppet out of wood, he fails to see that the wood is actually a living log, and his puppet is actually alive.
Calling his puppet Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi), sculptured into the model of a young boy, Geppetto takes pride in his “son” and encourages him to explore and be educated and be a good boy. Pinocchio is morally driven by a Talking Cricket (Davide Marotta) and a magical Fairy (Marine Vacth)
However, their world is full of danger and deceit, praying on the innocent and naïve. From cruel tricksters to and a host of less-than-colourful characters, Pinocchio will face a dangerous journey that separates him from Geppetto, forcing him to try and return home and be the strong spirit he was made to be…
It’s safe to say the Italian story of ‘Pinocchio’ is a global product now. Originally a children’s fairy-tale by Carlo Collodi, the adventures of everyone’s favourite wooden puppet came to light thanks to Walt Disney’s 1940 adaptation, and this will occur again in their 2021 live-action adaptation with Tom Hanks. Since 1940 however we have had various other interpretations, adaptations and re-tellings across many platforms. Yet this latest reimagining of the beloved story feels a lot more in touch with what Collodi may have envisioned when he wrote the book.
Italian director Matteo Garrone, a man who has dabbled in film genres including horror, crime, and eroticism, brings together a largely domestic cast and crew to create a family friendly adventure. Set in and around Italy in what feels like the 19th century but never really confirmed, we are treated to a lot more exploration of characters than ever before such as Benigni’s Geppetto who is evidently much more than just a carpenter. We see his emotions, his struggles, his desires, and his pains in the process of wanting to simply earn a living, and wanting to be a good father. Coupled with 8-year-old Ielapi as Pinocchio, the two form a really sweet and honest bond from the start, and this is the crux of the story, even though the two don’t share a great deal of screentime together for the most part.
Regardless of the strong cast brought together including Gigi Priiolettit as the cad Mangiafuoco and Alida Baldari Calabria / Marine Vacth as the dual role of the Fairy, this film belongs to Ielapi.
As Pinocchio, Ielepai has to convey so much in such a short time. From innocence and wide-eyed excitement of the new world he has been brought into, to sheer bewilderment and enthusiasm at new experiences, and the fear, horror, and pain felt in the times he is hurt, there is a lot needed to make Pinocchio someone you invest in, believe in and want to join with on such a journey. Ielapi does this with ease, and while his figure can be a little off-putting a first, you get used to him (as everyone else does) and look beyond the outside to see the conflicted and hidden good within.
Yes, Pinocchio is a testing child. He’s a know-it-all and pushes his luck more often than not. He doesn’t always listen to authority or have the respect needed to stay out of trouble. This comes across as a subtle reflection of the times, with Garrone using Pinocchio as his “humble Italian” faced with a number of oppressive figures and situations that blend everything from prejudice, politics, economic struggles, and tyranny, all into one 2 hour tale. Of course, this is a fairy-tale and all good fairy-tales reflect the social status of their era, and ‘Pinocchio’ proves how timeless a tale it can and how relatable the story is for any generation and any setting.
The most striking part of this story, second only to the Italian dialect which adds so much more naturalism and atmosphere, is the visual effects and practical production. Italian Dalia Colli and Brit Mark Coulier (of X-Men and Harry Potter fame) lent their make-up expertise to turn Ielapi into Pinocchio, and not one part of the 8-year old was CGI. It’s all practical make-up and prosthetics. This adds a huge amount to how much you buy into the story, and it gives the film a very Tim Burton-esque feel to things; a gentle, surreal, stunningly crafted, and fantastical fairy-tale true to the novel.
The fairy-tale look and feel is running right through this story, with Garrone on hand as director, producer, and co-writer of the adaptation. Many of the practical sets wonderful to see, and the character make-up and design of the creatures such as The Snail, the Cat and Fox, the Talking Cricket himself, and Doctor Owl are pulled right from the pages in the most faithful way.
Scary elements are here, but a little gentler in presentation. Emotional and often sad scenes such as Pinocchio’s descent into Toyland or the survival of the sea monster are all present and correct but don’t linger too much on the darker side of these scenes that could be upsetting for younger viewers. Comical humour and cheeky character persona’s, often thanks to Pinocchio himself, are always present and at times when things seem a little bleak.
Beautifully presented and without any omissions in it’s (slightly too long) 2hrs run-time, Garrone has the best team around him to honour his country’s most famous literary export in a timeless tale that looks beautiful and is told with as much heart as Walt Disney did.
Dir: Matteo Garrone
Scr: Matteo Garrone & Massimo Ceccherini
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Federico Ielapi, Rocco Papaleo, Massimo Ceccherini, Marine Vacth & Davide Marotta
Prd: Matteo Garrone, Jean Labadie, Anne-Laure Labadie, Jeremy Thomas & Paolo Del Brocco
DoP: Nicolaj Brüel
Runtime: 120 minutes
Pinocchio is now available on digital and on DVD