Matteo Garrone’s latest film “Pinocchio” is creepy and bizarre without much sense of fun and enchantment. While it is quite impressive to say the least in technical aspects (It was recently nominated for Best Costume and Best Makeup Oscar, by the way), the movie also looks deliberately dry and pale to the core, and we only come to observe its story and characters from the distance without much care or attention, despite our common knowledge of a famous Italian fairy tale on which it is based.
In the beginning, we see how its young eponymous hero is created by an old carpenter named Geppetto (Roberto Benigni, who dials down his rambunctious comic persona a bit here in this film). While he is going through another mundane life of his shabby daily life, Geppetto happens to encounter a puppet theater troupe, and, after getting a glimpse on those puppets, he promptly decides to make a puppet for himself. Fortunately, a piece of wood which seems to be imbued with some magic comes handy to him, and we soon see him diligently carving that piece of wood into a little human figure.
In the middle of this process, Geppetto comes to sense that there is indeed something special about his latest work, and, what do you know, his half-finished work comes to recognize and then speak to him when its head part is almost completed. Joyous at this outcome, Geppetto proudly and loudly announces the ‘birth’ of his son all around his village, and his “son” is named, of course, Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi).
Geppetto is surely ready to do everything he can do for raising Pinocchio, but, sadly, it turns out that, despite his sincere affection, he is not a very good father for Pinocchio mainly due to his sloppy mind. He clumsily tries to send Pinocchio to a local school, but he does not discern at all that Pinocchio’s mind is attracted to something else instead. Although he is supposed to go to the school as his father told him, Pinocchio goes to see the latest show from that puppet theater troupe instead, and it does not take much time for him to get noticed by not only a bunch of puppets doing the show on the stage but also their big grumpy owner, who instantly takes Pinocchio away from the village.
And that is the beginning of a series of unfortunate adventures of our little wooden hero. While he manages to get away from the owner of the puppet theater troupe after appealing to that guy’s better side a bit, Pinocchio subsequently gets involved with a couple of scoundrels, who are clearly the personified versions of two animal characters in the original story. Despite the sensible advice from another personified character in the story (Guess who that is), Pinocchio lets himself exploited by these two deplorable scoundrels, and he eventually comes to face a very dire circumstance which may be a little too disturbing for little children.
Fortunately, Pinocchio has a magical guardian to save him from this and several other troubles into which he gets later in the story, and that character in question is none other than the Fairy with Turquoise Hair, who is initially played by Baldari Calabria when she looks like a little girl and then played by Marine Vacth when she later reveals her true self to Pinocchio. While having lots of patience with many unwise choices and behaviors of Pinocchio, the Fairy with Turquoise Hair surely has some lessons to be learned by him, and we accordingly get that infamous moment involved with his nose at one point.
Pinocchio seems to keep those lessons in his mind, but, just like many other characters in moral fairy tales, he soon goes astray as before. When he comes upon a chance to have a fun somewhere outside the village, he does not hesitate at all, and the movie surely serves us another grotesque moment as our little wooden hero belatedly realizes what kind of trouble he gets himself into, though I must point out that this moment is not so memorable as what is shown in the 1940 Walt Disney animation film version. In case of the latter, I was amused a lot even while recognizing its creepy aspects. In case of the former, I was just mildly disturbed even though admiring a bit of the technical efforts shown from the screen.
Needless to say, the movie is admirable for its top-notch production qualities, but the screenplay by Garrone and his co-writer Massimo Ceccehrini often lags and trudges in its glacial narrative. Even at the narrative point where Pinocchio finally meets his father again inside some hideous giant fish, the movie does not provide much fun on the whole, and the expected finale feels too long as it tries to confirms to us that our little wooden hero finally comes to learn how he can be good enough to be a real boy (Is this a spoiler?).
Anyway, despite its failure to engage me, “Pinocchio” works to some degree as a distinctive version of the familiar fairy tale, and you may like it more than me if you enjoyed Garrone’s “Tale of Tales” (2015), which I somehow admired a bit more for a number of striking images which are as morbid and gruesome as what I saw from “Pinocchio”. To be frank with you, I am very interested in watching its behind-the-scene documentary for getting to know more of how Garrone and his crew members handled its commendable technical aspects, but, seriously, I have doubts on whether young audiences will enjoy it. Sure, kids are not that easily disturbed these days, but they will probably become bored and impatient during their viewing instead of being excited and enchanted, and I would rather recommend them and their parents the 1940 Walt Disney animation film version instead.