PG-13. Oh, you thought that Pinocchio would be something made for kids? I mean, it is made for kids. But these are European kids. These kids have seen things. Apparently, they are cool with the protagonist being hanged from a tree. There's all kinds of messed up stuff in this movie. At one point, Pinocchio's feet get burned off. It's just a generally upsetting movie. But did we show it to our kids? Most definitely. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Matteo Garrone
Guess what, guys? I'm finally going to take a little break from the blog. We're talking about a writing vacation. I've been catching up on TV shows, despite the fact that there are at least half-a-dozen movies that I want to see. But I've been looking forward to this break for a while. As much as I love Academy Award season, I acknowledge that it makes me binge watch movies too hard. These movies should never really be a chore for me. So I'm going to take at least a week from blogging and see how that plays out. Mind you, if my wife wants to watch a movie, we're gonna watch a movie and I'll write about it. But if everything goes according to plan, I'll actually be able to relax for a bit. Sure, I'll probably lose my ever-diminishing readership if I take a week off. But if I'm writing because I want popularity, I clearly haven't learned my lesson.
Roberto Benigni really wants to be in a successful Pinocchio movie, doesn't he? I'm pretty sure that he played the titular character post Life is Beautiful, which means he played him as a grown man. I get it. People have things that they really want to make work. I can't say that I saw the original Pinocchio, so I don't have too much room to critique it. I just remember after Life is Beautiful became part of the cultural zeitgeist, people were a little let down to see that Benigni's follow up was the Pinocchio movie. I remember the reviews were straight up bad. So to come back to the same project from a different perspective takes guts. I don't know if it necessarily paid off, but there is something kind of watchable about Pinocchio. Part of me is really spoiled by the Disney version of the movie. It's not like I love that movie. When my son said that he wanted to watch the animated version after we watched the live-action, I was enthusiastic. Not because I wanted to watch the Disney Pinocchio. It was because I could use the time to take a 70 minute nap...which I did. I review that nap 4-stars. Could be longer, but nobody bothered me for the length of the nap.
The thing about Pinocchio is that it really follows the rules of fables. Fables, being narrative stories, have a lesson at the crux of the story. "Little Red Riding Hood" is about following instructions. "Hansel and Gretel" instills fear of strangers. "The Three Little Pigs" is about doing things correctly the first time. Pinocchio, however, is about not being a jerk to your parents all of the time. Garrone's version really nails that point home. It's staring at all of the delinquent Italian children watching this movie and pointing at them for the length of two-hours-and-five-minutes. I'm really going to stress the five minutes because the movie is just too darned long. What I never realized with a much longer version of this movie is that the titular wooden child becomes way more unsympathetic given a longer runtime. The Disney version and this newest entry both stress that kids shouldn't be bad and that they should listen to their parents. But the Disney version is way more likable because he has to work towards his redemption arc early.
For a good hour-and-forty minutes, Pinocchio does absolutely awful things that make Geppetto distraught beyond recognition. And Geppetto is the most likable character in the story. He's Roberto Benigni. Take a second and think about how lovable he was in Life is Beautiful. Now give him a kid who is a huge turd and doesn't care about his feelings at all. Yeah, you feel bad for him, don't you? That's the movie. Considering that I only really think of this movie with Roberto Benigni front-and-center, he actually isn't in the movie that long because Pinocchio keeps on doing awful things farther and farther away from home. And what we quickly get is the beating of a dead horse. I realize that the original story was about the hi-jinks of this wooden boy who keeps falling prey to temptation and being given extra chances by magic, but holey moley. Tom Sawyer is somewhere on the shelf asking this kid to take a break from the naughtiness. At one point, we were sure the movie had to be almost over and we realized that we weren't even at the halfway point. I mean, what other evils did he have to accomplish that day? I have a to-do list on my board that would be shamed by Pinocchio's machinations.
And then there's the fever dream element to this movie. Disney has really made stories way more palatable for most audiences. I get that a lot of the original versions of these stories are meant to be weird. I get it. It's why people like the books. But Garrone's version takes every single weird thing about the original story and brings those in. There are other living puppets. I always thought that Pinocchio was special because he was the only living puppet. The "I Have No Strings" song was meant to be synecdoche, the missing strings representative of the entire magical transformation. But in this case, apparently, if you are a puppet, you are alive, but you have strings. This brings in the weird concept of slavery and classes of citizens. I mean, Geppetto is amazed to find that the magic wood created a boy who had emotions. That's fun. But I guess the expectation was that it would only have life if he gave the puppet strings? It's all very bizarre.
There is something really Terry Gilliam about the whole piece. I love me some Terry Gilliam. I haven't seen enough to really say that I love the complete oeuvre of Gilliam, but he makes these movies that are more visual experience than it is about the content of the story. I wish I could make a stronger connection to Brazil, but I remember having the same experience with Pinocchio as I had with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Mind you, it's been a dog's age since I've seen that movie. But with both movies, I remember being happy to have seen it because of the sensual experience it provided. That's what Pinocchio is. It's all about the imagery, which is why it was nominated for an Academy Award. Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning. I mean, it's a horrorshow for a lot of the movie, but it was the horrorshow that the movie intended to have. So as much as I'm kind of dunking on the movie, in no way do I regret it. Sure, the protagonist is a huge tool who keeps falling for the same tricks. Sure, the movie is about forty minutes too long. But it is a visual feast and probably exactly what the filmmakers wanted to make.
Also, Roberto Benigni is a doll. But in this case, not literally.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.