A classic tale is given a treatment that underlines the range of its appeal.



Even today the classic tale The Adventures of Pinocchio written by Carlo Collodi and published in 1883 is probably best known through Disney's animated film version despite that now being eighty years old. It was seventeen years later that an East German filmmaker, Walter Beck, created another movie version, but since then further treatments both for cinema and for television, some live action and some animated, have been prolific. Indeed, as I write a new Pinocchio is in preparation as the latest offering from Guillermo del Toro. But for now the latest to reach us is this triumphant adaptation of it by the Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone.


Given that Garrone made his name internationally with 2008's Gomorrah, an epic drama about the Camorra, the Naples equivalent of the Mafia, there was surprise when in 2015 he gave us a film as different as Tale of Tales. That work brought together three intertwined 17th century fairy tales and several of the producers involved then are also behind this new piece. Indeed, in many respects, including the film's visual quality, Pinocchio can be thought of as an extension of that new path in Garrone's career. What is different, superficially at least, is the fact that the material in Tale of Tales was sufficiently disturbing and adult to earn it a 15 certificate whereas, especially with Disney's film in mind, one thinks of Pinocchio as a work of strong appeal for children. But the fact is that Garrone's treatment which is, I am told, very faithful to Collodi gives us a Pinocchio which should be appreciated by adults quite as much as by children if not, indeed, even more so.


Collodi's story is, of course, a fantasy, a tale about a woodcarver named Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) who creates a puppet, Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi), and then finds that the wooden figure has a life of its own and even longs to become in time a real boy. The Disney film played up the popular appeal by adding songs such as 'When You Wish Upon a Star' and developed a major role for Jiminy Cricket, an engaging figure representing Pinocchio's conscience (the work's most famous scene is, of course, the one in which Pinocchio's nose grows ever longer when he tells lies). However, the current version takes a quite different route since, excluding animation at all times, it comes across as a tale which, despite existing in its own stylised world, frequently reflects the one that we know.


As soon as Pinocchio starts to speak and is ready to walk, he runs off, plays truant from school and contrives to gain access to a puppet show run by Mangiafuoco (Gigi Proietti) who, in effect, kidnaps him. These early scenes recognisably illustrate how children's natural curiosity and rebellious nature can bring pain to a parent while life in the puppet theatre portrays exploitation. When Pinocchio escapes and seeks to return home, he falls into the hands of tricksters, two in particular. That they are both presented in anthropomorphic form - one being Gatto (Cat) (Rocco Papaleo) and the other Volpe (Fox) (Massimo Ceccherini - does nothing to hide their human credibility as representations of men who take advantage of others. As Pinocchio's adventures continue (and this is decidedly a film of episodes) the more traditional fairy tale aspect that emerges lies in Pinocchio being rescued more than once by a fairy who has his interests at heart (this being a role played first by Alida Baldari Calabria and then when she grows into an adult by Marine Vacth). Nevertheless, adult viewers may soon find other non-fairy tale parallels coming to mind: a scene in which two doctors proffer totally contradictory views is reminiscent of Molière, a courtroom scene in which it is innocence which can lead to a jail sentence is akin to the topsy-turvy world of Lewis Carroll and, when Pinocchio is persuaded to go to school after all, the harshness of how he is treated reminds us of Dickens. Many of these elements may intrigue children, but it is more likely to be adults who can respond fully to the significant parallels with actual human experience.


The second half of Pinocchio has less of this behind it offering as it does more purely fantastical episodes although these are appealing enough. One in which children are lured away by false promises and then find themselves transformed into animals repeats the exploitation theme only in a more extreme way (what comes to mind in passing is the famous Studio Ghibli 2001 animation Spirited Away). The other big sequence finds Pinocchio swallowed by a shark and at long last reunited with his father who, searching the world for his missing son, has also ended up alive but inside the shark. Needless to say there is a happy ending but it is the extent to which Pinocchio goes beyond being merely an entertaining fantasy for children that stands out here, especially in the first half.


The visuals certainly please the eye throughout and Garrone's film gains too from a music score by Dario Marianelli which perfectly captures the requisite tone. The use of specialised makeup required in particular for Pinocchio, Gatto and Volpe is well judged while among the fully human characters two roles are notably well realised. Young Alissio Di Domenicantonio as a boy who befriends Pinocchio is excellent and adds to the sense of underlying realism and Roberto Benigni, who as both director and actor was involved in an earlier version in which he played Pinocchio, gives what is his most subdued and quite possibly his best performance as Geppetto. Garrone's film is self-evidently a labour of love: it works very well indeed and is strong on atmosphere. For many the subtitled version that I saw will be the one to seek out, but it is also available dubbed into English.




Cast: Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Rocco Papaleo, Massimo Ceccherini, Marine Vacth, Gigi Proietti, Alida Baldari Calabria, Alessio Di Domenicantonio, Maria Pia Timo, Paolo Graziosi, Enzo Vetrano, Teco Celio.


Dir Matteo Garrone, Pro Paolo Del Brocco, Matteo Garrone, Jean Labadie, Anne-Laure Labadie and Jeremy Thomas, Screenplay Matteo Garrone and Massimo Ceccherini, from the novel by Carlo Collodi, Ph Nicolai Brüel, Pro Des Dimitri Capuani, Ed Marco Spoletini, Music Dario Marianelli, Costumes Massimo Cantini Parrini.


Archimede/RAI Cinema/Le Pacte/Recorded Picture Company/Canal+/Ciné+/HanWay Films-Vertigo Films.
125 mins. Italy/France/UK. 2019. Rel: 14 August 2020. Available in cinemas. Cert. PG.