In 1999, Italian filmmaker and actor, Roberto Benigni beat acting giants such as Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, Edward Norton and Nick Nolte to win the academy award for best lead actor for his Italian language film, Life Is Beautiful. This historic win made Benigni the first and, to this date, only actor to win a leading actor Oscar without speaking in the English language.
However, Benigni’s international interest would be short lived as in 2002, he would release his next film which completely bomb in America, resulting in Benigni being met with several Razzie award nominations for writing and directing, whilst winning the award for worst actor. This film was Benigni’s own Italian adaptation of Pinocchio, however, 17 years later, Benigni is out for redemption from the mistake that plagued his cinematic career.
This time around, Roberto Benigni stays in front of the camera, only starring in this version of Pinocchio. Directing duties are performed by Tale of Tales director, Matteo Garrone, and the script is written by Garrone and one of his frequent script writing collaborators, Massimo Ceccherini.
Everyone knows the story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet come to life who wishes to become a real boy, however, Garrone’s version, similar to Tale of Tales, tells a darker story that is more faithful to the original Italian source material than the Disney fairy tale that has cultivated our understanding of Pinocchio.
The film opens by introducing us to a struggling carpenter named Geppetto, played by Roberto Benigni. Nobody needs chairs, tables or doors made for them anymore and so Geppetto is low on work and income, until one day a puppet theater rides into town and inspires him to build his own puppet. Bursting with energy, Geppetto gets to work on his puppet, however he soon realizes he isn’t just making a puppet, but his actually creating life.
And with that, Pinocchio is born meaning Geppetto is now father. Overjoyed with his new purpose in life, Geppetto screams from the rooftops and fashions Pinocchio clothes out of what little he has. However, Pinocchio isn’t exactly grateful of anything his father does for him, instead running away every chance he gets.
When one day Pinocchio bunks off school to watch the local puppet show, he’s kidnapped by Mangiafuoco, the puppet’s owner. When Geppetto finds out he vows to travel the world in search of his son. The rest of the film follows Pinocchio’s journey home, his search for his father and his realization that if he is to be a real boy, he has to take responsibility for his actions.
Garrone and Ceccherini pen their adaption in a way that captures the timelessness of the classic tale as it tackles its relevant themes in a way that still rings true and doesn’t contain any of the problematic Disney content of the 1940’s film. Garrone then brings his script to life perfectly with his assured direction and dark fantasy style, but most notably from the films visual effects which are so realistic it’s frankly creepy. This creepiness however, doesn’t ever detract from the wholesomeness of the story, but it equally does aide Garrone when he decides to go darker. I don’t know how they did it, but Matteo Garrone’s film is perfectly balanced in every way.
Although Garrone’s adaptation is a roaring success, the film is a lot more engaging when it follows Geppetto rather than Pinocchio. Unlike the Disney film, you feel Geppetto’s struggle as we meet him at time where he is forced to use desperate measures to get work and food. Geppetto’s character is one you can sympathize with and he is brought to life exceptionally by Roberto Benigni.
Roberto Benigni delivers an outstanding performance in this film, thus it is fair to say that he has fixed the mistake that plagued the last 18 years of his career. Benigni is pitch perfect, the energy, enthusiasm and capacity for comedy he possesses and displays are simply spellbinding, but more importantly, he always matches the tone and feel of the scene whether that be light or dark.
Overall, Pinocchio is a timeless tale brought wonderfully to life thanks to realistic visual effects, an assured creative mind behind the camera as well as, a redeeming performance from an Italian acting legend. The film does sag a little in the middle, largely due to the absence of Benigni as Geppetto, however the film is never boring and, thanks to a darker tone, Pinocchio is proof that sometimes Disney doesn’t always do it best.
Pinocchio will be available on VOD and digital download on December 7th and will be on DVD from December 14th