2020 Catch-Up: Pinocchio

By Christian DiMartino

Around Christmas time last year, I knew that there was a new Pinocchio movie floating around the multiplexes, and that it starred Academy Award winner Robert Benigni as Geppetto. I mention this detail because I remember, as a five year old, seeing a trailer for another live-action Pinocchio, around 2002. It looked, even at five years old, pretty terrible. Years later, I would come to realize that the 2002 Pinocchio starred Benigni, who I was obviously unaware of as a five year old, and he directed it (and, surprise, it was supposed to be pretty terrible). Well, it’s my idea of an interesting detail.

Anyways, despite having decent reviews, I figured there was no reason to see the new Pinocchio, until the morning of the Oscar nominations, when it was nominated for Best Make-Up and Costume Design. So I began looking into it, and… the image of Pinocchio himself gave me the willies. Just looking at pictures, he looked like a creation of nightmares. Yet I had the chance to see the new Pinocchio last night, and shortly into his appearance onscreen, my eyes and fears settled and I got used to the look. I was also, in all honesty, super impressed by that make-up. It’s wild people.

Yet two things caught me off guard: one, the film is in Italian, which should’ve been a no-brainer because Benigni is involved, and two, the film is nightmare fuel. I may have gotten used to the image of this Pinocchio, but little did I expect what was to come, and I have seen the Disney classic so I should’ve known what I was in store for. It all really started with the appearance of Jiminy Cricket. When he’s off screen, your stomach can settle… and then he returns, and you know what? He’s not alone. He’s joined by many other piss-your-pants frightening creations.

The film’s director, Matteo Garrone, had said that with this adaptation, he wanted to capture the darker elements of the source material. Well sir, you succeeded. This version of Pinocchio is indeed a pretty faithful adaptation, and it also plays sort of like a Brother’s Grimm rendition of the story we know. Which, I admit, makes it pretty interesting. Yet I can’t say that this is a film that I particularly enjoyed simply because I found its creations utterly chilling… but I can’t say that I didn’t admire the film, at least.

This Pinocchio, if we’re being honest, deserves the Oscar for Best Make-Up. Frightened as I was at times, it’s also super impressive, and to further that, I’ll say that I haven’t seen anything like this in a long time. By that I mean, it feels like so many films like this these days settle for CGI. I have no objection to CGI, as long as it isn’t overkill, and as long as it actually looks good. Garrone’s film does things, mostly, the old fashioned way, and while there might be some visual effects on display, a lot of what we’re seeing is make-up. And the make-up is not only sort of awe-inspiring, but these creations LOOK the way they would if we were face-to-face with them. Having said that though, if I were face-to-face with a talking puppet or a giant cricket or a talking fish with a human’s face (yes), again, I’d probably piss my pants.

This rendition of Pinocchio is an interesting one. It’s not a film that I enjoyed, yet it’s not a film that I believe to be bad. Over time, when I fall back asleep again, I can see myself warming up to it because it is ambitious in that it takes a beloved tale and spins it in fascinating ways. But… crikey. It’s also weird that I find myself indifferent towards it because I do have a tendency to appreciate darker movies that are aimed for children. This movie is just… a lot. It’s perhaps better than I’m giving credit for, but hold your pillow tight.


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