Italian scribe Carlo Collodi's 1883 tale 'Pinocchio' is about a wooden puppet brought to life by supernatural forces. When you think about it, the story has always been nightmare fuel. Director Matteo Garrone ('Dogman', 'Gomorrah') leans into this gnarlier territory for his version of the classic tale, which has already been adapted to the silver screen numerous times.
Roberto Benigni - who filmed a disastrous 2002 adaptation that almost ended his international career - appears as Geppetto, a lonely carpenter who carves a living puppet from a log of possessed wood. The wooden boy (Federico Ielapi) goes on a lengthy journey that leads him to a crafty Cat (Rocco Papaleo) and Fox (Massimo Ceccherini), as well as a Fairy with Turquoise Hair and a kindly Snail. Not content to socialise with weirdos, he is also transformed into a donkey, cast into the sea (prompting the film's most eye-catching sequence involving a school of fish) and swallowed up by a freakishly mutated monster whale.
In contrast to Disney's version, Garrone's 'Pinocchio' sticks closer to Collodi's original moralistic fable about a puppet who learns there's more to being "a real boy" than goofing around all day. The storyline is therefore much darker and horrifying that you would expect. In 2012's 'Tale of Tales', Garrone mixed three traditional Italian 17th century folk tales into a creepy and twisted compendium. Sharing the same tonal palette, 'Pinocchio' is mired in poverty and desperation. The film contains some gruesome scenes, such as the main character accidentally burning his own feet off while warming them on an oven and later being hung from tree by a couple of criminals. Pinocchio himself resembles an eerie robot, less so than a cute puppet. This adaptation isn't really a fairytale, but seems like more of a surrealistic adventurous drama in the vein of 'The Mighty Boosh'.
When Disney made the animated film in the 1940s, Walt decreed that they soften the title character to make him more likeable. Garrone's is a more faithful adaptation, and his version of the wooden boy is a pugnacious little turd. Poor Geppetto is so thrilled to have this child, but it gives him nothing but misery. Personally, I loved this aspect. I cackled with laughter when Pinocchio instantly took a dislike to the unnamed-yet-familiar gigantic humanoid cricket with a wizened face (played by Davide Marotta) who pops up to nag him. When the creature won't shut up with its advice, the brat throws a farrier's hammer at its head. The film is a potent illustration of how people can only improve because they're so lousy to begin with.
When Disney made the animated film in the 1940s, Walt decreed that they soften the title character to make him more likeable. Garrone's is a more faithful adaptation and his version of the wooden boy is a pugnacious little turd.
Garrone's undiscriminating direction of the cast, none of whom appear to be acting in the same movie, and many of whom are playing andromorphic animals, somehow adds to its macabre humour and overall strangeness.
The art department, which includes Oscar winners Mark Coulier ('The Grand Budapest Hotel') and David Malinowski ('Darkest Hour') and 'Guardians of the Galaxy' sculptor Sebastian Lochmann, have given the film a Terry Gilliam feel where everything has a little touch of grotesque and beauty. The sun occasionally breaks through but the colour scheme is overcast throughout. Garrone loves big artificial sets and costumes in the style of Fellini, but he restrains himself from going too bonkers, or forgetting his social responsibilities to the downtrodden peasantry.
Scored to tinkling chords by Dario Marianelli, this is the kind of movie that Tim Burton probably thought he was making with the bland 'Alice in Wonderland' or Benh Zeitlin with his lumpen 'Wendy'. Garrone manages to pull off something more captivating than a run-of-the-mill Disney-fied bedtime story - his 'Pinocchio' effortlessly fuses adventure, humour and moral instruction through the medium of magic realism.