Pinocchio (2002)

"Weak"

Pinocchio (2002) Review


It's been about 20 years and some 130 pounds since I saw Disney's cartoon version of Pinocchio (based on Carlo Collodi's book). Though much has happened in that time, I remember adoring that movie. I also remember the lovable puppet not having a receding hairline, as well as not feeling like I was watching a community theater production.

In 2003, multiplex-bound parents and their kids have to settle for Roberto Benigni as the wooden puppet who longs to be a little boy. And I do mean settle. Watching Pinocchio, you almost forget that this is the same guy behind the moving, wonderful Life is Beautiful.

Benigni's version, which he also co-wrote and directed (and reportedly financed out of his own pocket), just doesn't work, because he fails to put his audience under any kind of spell. For example, there's no effort on Benigni's part to look like a puppet, aside from his wardrobe. Take away a few shots of Pinocchio's nose growing and a mice-drawn carriage, and very few strides are taken to portray a world of make-believe. There's no sense of imagination being set free, which could have been so easily portrayed in a cartoon or if the CGI-happy Wachowski brothers decided to take a crack at it (minus the violence and leather, of course). Maybe more special effects would have kept me from wishing that Gepetto threw his creation in the nearest fireplace.

Here, Pinocchio is a jerk. And what's worse, he's rewarded for being a jerk. The movie lets him get away with seemingly everything but murder. He skips school, disrespects his elders, acts selfishly and generally makes a nuisance of himself. Despite his delinquent behavior, Gepetto (Carlo Giuffrè) and the matriarchal Blue Fairy (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's real-life wife) are constantly giving him more chances than Steve Howe and Mike Tyson combined.

Even when Pinocchio eventually becomes flesh and bone, he's unjustifiably rewarded. His stretch of model behavior comes across as a brief postscript to a life of juvenile crime, like a dying murderer receiving last-minute absolution. Is this what we want kids to believe, that bad behavior and a willingness to apologize effusively mixed in with a dash of actual hard work will be rewarded in big ways? To be fair, Benigni, acting like it's still Oscar night 1999, and Breckin Meyer's obnoxious dubbing work only make it easier to hate the beloved fairy tale character. That's quite a remarkable feat.

Adults will certainly want to spend their time in the theater thinking up grocery lists and ways to tell their kids how not to act like Pinocchio. As for children, they won't enjoy the movie at all. There isn't enough activity and visual stimulation to keep them distracted. There's nobody on screen they can relate to. The lead character is 50 years old and even more adults portray kids. And if your little ones aren't prepared for death scenes, you might want to go see Harry Potter again, or try reading to them.

It's been about five years since Benigni conquered America hearts with Life is Beautiful. With Pinocchio, America will probably ask how they got seduced in the first place. They'll do that right after they answer all of their questions about Pinocchio's age and why he's going to school.

(As a final note: The only interesting part of the movie is in guessing who provides the dubbing. Aside from Meyer, those providing vocal talents include Glenn Close (who does a great job), Regis Philbin, Topher Grace (Traffic), Cheech Marin, Queen Latifah, and John Cleese.)

The Pinocchio DVD is an oddity, featuring two cuts of the film, the U.S. release (reviewed above) and the original Italian version, which is 17 minutes longer and subtitled, not dubbed. It's hard to say whether the Italian cut is "better," as it still has Benigni prancing about in a pointed hat and a tutu. But, this being the beauty of home video, you get to be the judge. Kudos to Disney/Miramax for releasing both versions of the film on DVD!

"I'm a real live nuisance!"



Facts and Figures

Genre: Animation

Reviews

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