Released: 25th December 2020
Seen: 22nd April 2021
The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi was printed in 1883 in Italy and quickly became a classic. The story of a little wooden puppet with a nose that grows every time he lies has not only been adapted multiple times but has inspired a multitude of other films. Possibly the most famous adaptation was done by Walt Disney in 1940, a film so popular that the song “When You Wish Upon A Star” would basically become the Disney anthem.
Pinocchio has been put into many different scenarios, including an animated film that put him in space, a musical flop that focussed on Gepetto and even a late 90s horror film called Pinocchio’s Revenge. I wonder if that revenge was because he saw a very early screening of this film and wanted to get back at the filmmakers for slander!
Pinocchio tells the story of the titular wooden puppet, Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi). This puppet, borne from a seemingly sentient log that was found by Gepetto (Roberto Benigni) is a little insolent child who almost instantly runs from home and falls in with a bad crowd who trick him, lie to him and try to hang him or set him on fire on multiple occasions. I do not blame them for this, if I had this irritating bit of wood following me around, I’d have turned him into charcoal within minutes.
So, this film is this year’s recipient of the “Random ass film that gets nominated for makeup Oscar” award, an award that previously went to things like Heartbeeps, Norbit and Suicide Squad. It’s a film that I don’t think many people outside of Italy would’ve watched and I just do not get why it’s getting so much praise from critics because it’s all visual and no substance and sometimes the visuals are… questionable, let’s say.
Let’s get the Oscar stuff out of the way, shall we? The practical makeup that turns a small boy into a wooden puppet or creates all the strange human/animal hybrids that litter the film is actually pretty impressive. I get why the effects might have caught the eye of an awards voter trying to find a 5th nominee in this year where there seemingly no other choices for them to make. It’s not going to win, I assume a just and loving God will stop that from happening, but I get how it got a nomination.
What I don’t get is how anyone can claim to enjoy this slog of a film. In an attempt to keep closer to the original short story, the film tries to go a lot darker but in doing so removes most of the magical whimsy and connective tissue. Scenes don’t so much flow from one to the other, they make abrupt leaps from point to point and just assumes the audience is going to keep up. Performances aren’t subtle or interesting, they’re either loud and irritating or they’re not trying. It might look pretty, but there’s no real substance to be found here. Nice video, shame about the song.
Now, a word of warning, I am watching the dubbed version of this film. The dub is absolutely atrocious, I don’t know who decided that the characters should all sound like this but that person made a bad choice. It is possible that the irritation I feel is, in part, due to the choice of voices… but then I think about the bad pacing and story choices and realise that maybe the film isn’t good.
There are choices here that make me wonder who thought this was meant for kids. I’m not saying kids can’t handle dark imagery, they can. Hell, the Disney Pinocchio has possibly the scariest donkey transformation scene in any version of this story (Though the one in THIS film is pretty effective) so you can absolutely scare small children.
What you probably shouldn’t do is have two characters don white robes and lynch a small child with wooden skin that’s a very light shade of brown, that conjures up a history that this film is in no way qualified to handle. For the record, it does nothing interesting with this lynching scene, it serves no purpose beyond being another atrocity for Pinocchio to suffer through. Maybe I’m weird, but isn’t putting an image that’s terrifyingly similar to the Klan lynching a child in a family film a bad thing?
If the entire film was full of moments of pure bad taste I could almost get into that, but no. Most of this is just kind of dull, to the point where I actually fell asleep while watching it. The story is stretched to the limit, scenes just feel like they go on forever and there’s no moment of genuine excitement to be found. It’s been decades since I watched the Disney version of this same story but I remember the Got No Strings sequence the horrifying Donkey transformation, the Whale scene… it’s been about 20 minutes since I finished this movie, lord help me if I remember anything good.
Maybe I could compliment the performers for committing so hard to such a weird movie, no one’s phoning in their performance (except the dub actors) but no one’s really giving a performance that makes me care. You know you have really failed to make a compelling lead when their screams of “I don’t want to die” elicits the audience response of “I would very much like you to die”. I shouldn’t actively hate Pinocchio, that feels like hating the concept of kittens and rainbows but apparently, this film can make you hate kittens and rainbows.
Interestingly Roberto Begnini is kind of infamous for being in another very bad version of Pinocchio where he actually played the titular character so at least this time he’s picked a role that’s more age appropriate for him. Sure, he’s still not great in it (how the hell did this man beat Edward Norton, Tom Hanks AND Ian McKellen in 1999? How the hell did he even get nominated that year? Jim Carrey had just won the Globe for The Truman Show so how was he not in the spot that Begnini had?) but at least he’s not horrifyingly creepy.
No, the creepy elements are the things meant to be somewhat whimsical. Pinocchio just lives in the uncanny valley, the cricket is disturbingly large for a creature that is meant to hide in the grass and… well, I’d describe the Blue Fairy design but that implies it was memorable. Again, I hate to compare this film to the Disney one (but that’s the version everyone knows) at least none of the character designs in that movie gave me nightmares and they were memorable!
Maybe, theoretically, the subtitled version with the italian audio might be good because it won’t have the same irritating soundtrack but I doubt it because the rest of Pinocchio is a sea of boredom with the occasional whirlpool of horrific bad taste imagery. It’s a film that will only be remembered as a piece of trivia about the Oscars in coming years but other than that… I don’t know, maybe it’s a good substitute for sleep medications.