Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

Robert Benig­ni’s adap­ta­tion of Car­lo Col­lodi’s “Pinoc­chio” is the artis­tic ver­sion you thought you’d nev­er see. But that’s not the catch. The real catch is that Beg­ni­ni stars as the wood­en pup­pet that comes to life and Nico­let­ta Braschi (Benig­ni’s wife, who also starred in “Life Is Beau­ti­ful”) plays the gor­geous Blue Fairy. In this mar­velous quest about a pup­pet that yearns to become a “real boy,” Benig­ni proves he can win hearts but also drag things.

Of course, Pinoc­chio would not be com­plete with­out Gepet­to (Car­lo Guiffre), the pup­pet’s cre­ator and father. Gepet­to rais­es the pup­pet and teach­es him to live right, to go to school and learn to spell, as opposed to steal­ing and fight­ing. But Pinoc­chio is a lit­tle delin­quent at first, who is eas­i­ly influ­enced by oth­ers and who eas­i­ly breaks promises.

I love Benig­ni’s work. I love the fact that the man is so ecsta­t­ic both out­side of his work and inside of it, as well. He knows how to make peo­ple laugh and knows how to make them cry. But I’m not sure he ful­ly suc­ceed­ed in bring­ing out the tod­dler in me with Pinoc­chio, which is a tale I used to read at five years old.

I will, how­ev­er, admit that his ver­sion is one of the most beau­ti­ful films ever shot. Pic­ture Lawrence Of Ara­bia, E.T., Toys (because of the col­ors), and then com­bine them togeth­er. You will get a clear­er idea of what the images are like in Pinoc­chio. These images aren’t includ­ed only to impress young aspir­ing film­mak­ers but to tell the sto­ry much in the fash­ion of the clas­sic sto­ry­book: through imagery. The sets are mul­ti-col­ored, the set­tings are cozy, and the cos­tumes are not­ing short of delight­ful and rich.

But get­ting through the first 20 min­utes of the movie is where the prob­lem comes in. Some find Benig­ni annoy­ing while oth­ers burst into laugh­ter when he speaks. At the begin­ning of the film, when he is first assem­bled and comes to life, he begins jump­ing around, express­ing joy, prais­ing his father, chant­i­ng, and danc­ing. Maybe I missed the charm in that, but did­n’t think that was cute. In fact, at that point, some audi­ence mem­bers did­n’t make an effort to con­tin­ue watching.

Every­one who has seen the movie was­n’t impressed. Most crit­ics slammed the film, label­ing it a hol­low work of art with­out mean­ing or charm. It did­n’t get a wide release, but I thought it made for a fine art­sy-kid­dy-type film. The dia­logue is arguably fresh, ener­getic, live­ly, but not quite as intel­li­gent and direct as the orig­i­nal tale or pre­vi­ous cin­e­mat­ic ver­sions. This one beats around the bush, so to speak, but then skips to the point in an order­ly fash­ion to bring us to the hap­py ending.

The pos­i­tive sides are still present. The key mes­sages are still incor­po­rat­ed and evi­dent. Yes, Pinoc­chio’s nose still elon­gates when he tells lies. Yes, there still mys­ti­cal forests and talk­ing ani­mals. And yes, kids should watch this movie. It is a les­son that teach­es chil­dren of all ages not to dis­obey or lie and that if they do, they will be struck with mis­for­tune and regret. It is a good-natured revi­sion, very far from per­fect, but far from being a total mess. Benig­ni likes to take risks and Pinoc­chio is an exam­ple. But after all, how much could go wrong when you decide to rein­vent a clas­sic with slight changes? Not much, except for those hard­core lovers of orig­i­nals who enjoy dis­sect­ing adap­ta­tions. In this case, I was flexible.


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