PINOCCHIO - Movie Review
by Michael Elliott

Artistic Rating: H
Comments: Now we know why the blue fairy is blue. She must have seen an early copy of the film.
Directed By: Roberto Benigni
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Mino Bellei, Carlo Giuffre & Peppe Barra
Written By: Vincenzo Cerami & Roberto Benigni
Rated: G
Running Time: 1 hr : 48 min
Scripture References: Ephesians 6:1-3, Exodus 20:12 Proverbs 1:8-9

The tale of a wooden puppet who magically comes to life and yearns to be a real boy has delighted Italian youngsters and their parents alike, long before Walt Disney ever entered the picture. Carlo Collodi first published The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883, and even though most Americans are more familiar with the "Disney-fied" 1940 animated version, Collodi's original story was far darker in the telling.

Italy's favorite clown, Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful), explores those darker elements and puts a distinctive Italian stamp on what has become something of a national treasure. Unfortunately, this holiday "gift" from Benigni is about as welcome as the hand crocheted cummerbund received from Aunt Jennie.

All the familiar elements are present although few bear any resemblance to the mind pictures which have been drawn for us by Walt and his team: The Blue Fairy (played by Roberto Benigni's wife, Nicoletta Braschi); a talking cricket; disobedient boys being turned into donkeys; lies of nose-growing proportions; a Jonah-like resurrection, etc.

However, it is the unfamiliar elements, though they be faithfully adapted from the original source, which take us aback. Are American audiences really ready to see Pinocchio hanging by his neck as if dead? Life and death issues are very much in play here and there is at least one fatality which is addressed.

In the original story, which Benigni was keen on mirroring, Pinocchio smooshes the cricket dead with a mallet upon their first meeting. Thankfully, it would seem that even Benigni recognizes the marketing folly that is "cricketcide" and chose to do a bit of rewriting in that scene. But not much.

The film opens fancifully, with a block of wood careening through crowded Tuscan streets as if it had a mind and life of its own, only to come to rest at woodcarver Geppetto's workshop door. Of course, it is from this log that Geppetto (Carlo Giuffre, Son contento) fashions his puppet Pinocchio. Unfortunately, once the sawdust clears and the 50-year-old Benigni appears as the title character, we find ourselves longing for the block of wood to come back. It was a lot more charismatic. It turns out that Benigni comes across as neither charming nor boyishly playful. "Annoying" is the most fitting adjective that comes to mind.

The version being released to American audiences has been dubbed (rather poorly) into English. The vocal talent includes contributions by: Breckin Meyer (Pinocchio); Glenn Close (The Blue Fairy); John Cleese (the cricket); David Suchet (Geppetto and the Narrator); and Eric Idle (Medoro).

All in all, the entire production is, at best, a cultural miscalculation on the part of Benigni. Perhaps the Italian flavor brought out by adhering to Collodi's original text is lost on American audiences. Then again, perhaps it is just what it appears to be... a bad film and artistic embarrassment for those involved.

It is a real pity because there are wonderful messages of biblical significance woven into the story itself. The most obvious of these has to do with the first commandment God gave to man, which carried with it an eternal and unbreakable promise.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3 (KJV)

What Pinocchio had to learn and what God would have us all know is this: there are benefits that go with obedience. As we obey our parents who are, in turn, obeying God via His Word, we will be blessed and protected. Furthermore, if we can learn to obey our earthly parents who are with us physically and who can be seen and heard plainly, as we grow older we will have conditioned ourselves to be more prone to obey our spiritual Father, whom we cannot see.

An important lesson to be sure and one that is inherent in the story of Pinocchio. But this version of the story will not deliver that message effectively. In order to learn something, one must stay awake while the lesson is taught. This Pinocchio is more effective as a lullaby than as a parable.

-Michael Elliott-c/o Movie Parables

February Home