Sunday, November 15, 2020

Matteo Garrone's "Pinocchio" May Be The Movie Collodi Fans Have Been Waiting For


Matteo Garrone (Tale of Tales, Gomorrah, Dogman) has long said he wished to bring Pinocchio to the screen.

“’Pinocchio’ is a dream of mine that goes back to when I was a child,” says Garrone. “On my desk I still have my own personal ‘Pinocchio’ story-board that I drew and colored in when I was a kid, and which is one of my most cherished mementos.”  (Variety)

That storyboard reportedly accompanied Garrone to many of his development and production meetings during the creation of his movie to help remind him of the boyhood vision and heart he was trying to put on screen, and many reviews indicate he may have achieved exactly that. Not only has Garrone intended to make this film for most of his life but his intent was always to make it very faithful to the book - or more correctly, the serially-released stories which were essentially strung together (pun intended) and eventually collected into a book (in 1883). Having captured his own imagination as a child we suspected Garrone's Pinocchio, would be a family film, which it is, unlike his other works, though perhaps caution should be taken if the family has little children. It is likely to be rated PG in the US when it's released here, as it has been in other countries.

Take a look at the trailer (in English): 

The Lure & Challenge of Pinocchio To Filmmakers

Many filmmakers - more than one might think, confess to an obsession with Pinocchio and it's not unusual to see those themes running through seemingly unrelated movies. Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and many others have been fairly overt about their love of the story and created deliberate homages in their films, (A.I., Frankenweenie, Edward Scissorhands, and many more), even if the story hasn't quite been the same. At the time of writing Disney is crafting a new live-action version (based on their own classic, not Collodi's book, with director Robert Zemeckis. Being a Disney recycling, it's likely to have even less relation to the Collodi classic than the 1940 version did, but, unless Zemeckis good terribly in his judgment, it's likely to still find a wide audience. Fan-favorite director and master of the fantasy-horror genre, Guillermo del Toro is working on a completely different (and highly anticipated) stop-motion version, in collaboration with Jim Henson's Muppet Workshop veteran artists, due to be released next year. It's set in fascist Italy and has a stellar cast of voices including Tilda Swinton as the Fairy with the Turquoise Hair, Ewan McGregor as the Talking Cricket, and Ron Pearlman as the fearsome puppet master, Mangiafuoco (literally "Fire-Eater"). 


If searching for film incarnations worldwide, it becomes apparent that a LOT of directors have tried to bring their vision of Pinocchio to the screen. It also becomes apparent that more often than not, these attempts, despite a love for the source material and access to talented cast and crew, have failed - both with audiences and critics.

Pinocchio is quite a challenge to take on - one that many directors have known and been determined to take on, but success has been largely elusive, especially when trying to keep the same spirit as the classic. Only Disney's animated version (1940) was, and remains loved and has become a new family touchstone, but the truth is, Disney's version bears little resemblance to The Adventures of Pinocchio and the character Collodi created. To put it bluntly, Collodi's Pinocchio is less likely to wish on a star as he is to moon it (pun intended), and "Jimminy Cricket" (the cricket's name given by Disney), is killed almost immediately on appearing and can only follow along in the story as a ghost. While that may sound dark and dastardly to many Western audiences, the book remains a classic and is still read fondly both in Europe and in the UK and the US; there is something about Collodi's classic Disney's version did not capture, which still attracts people today.


Concept art (Garrone)

Why Is Pinocchio Still A Story People Want to Tell (And See?)

Pinocchio is not only Euro-centric in its humor and storytelling approach (something which folks in the US and UK sometimes find too dark, too irreverent, randomly nonsensical and too non-linear*) but, being originally released serially, the flow of the overall story tends to be episodic, erratic and doesn't always appear to know where it's going. In some ways, this organic approach actually works better than a lot of large-work storytelling because of the subject of "becoming real" (often summarized as "growing up", though that is actually a limited parallel when looking at Collodi's work here). As a result, people have found it relates very well to the awkward spurts during childhood and adolescence as people try to discover who they are, complicated by discovering the combined beauty and harshness of the world at large at the same time as they, themselves, are changing. 

*NOTE: We mention randomly nonsensical and non-linear as having traditionally been a problem for UK and US audiences but we have noticed a rising increase in acceptance of the bizarre and ridiculous this last year in particular. The crazier real life gets, the more those "fevered dream"-type animations and films of Soviet and European origin seem to, not only make a strange sort of sense, expressing the nonsensical is almost cathartic. In this sense, perhaps grownups are beginning to understand why these sorts of bizarre episodic-type storytelling vignettes are so impressionable and beloved by children (see the paragraph below which touches on this). It also shows just how much we - as humans - need art to express our discomfort and process our world when things are topsy-turvy. Art is our way to finding our feet, our purpose, and our return to hope again. But back to the film.

But there's another aspect to Pinocchio too - one that warns children about the darkness of the world, in a metaphor even kids tend to intuitively understand, and it's not just about trying to find who you are in the world either. It looks at the imbalances in morality and justice and explores them very frankly in a way kids "get".


Garrone spoke a little bit about this to

Why, though, does a fable almost a century-and-a-half old feel so contemporary?

“It’s always talking about us, about our fear,” Garrone answers. “It’s also giving a warning to kids – how life can be violent and dangerous. Don’t make wrong decisions! I think this is the lesson Collodi gives. I think there is some dark – it’s necessary for the kids to grow up, to learn – but by the end there’s the light.”

Set in a head-spinning rustic 19th-century world where animals take human form, Garrone’s Pinocchio points to the more “anarchic” qualities of Collodi’s book, and its musings on justice, when the gorilla judge sends Pinocchio, and not the scheming Cat and Fox, to jail.

“The meaning, it’s very modern,” says Garrone, “where, in many countries, the innocent go to prison and the guilty, especially the rich and powerful, are out.”


So What Are People Really Saying About Garrone's Pinocchio?

Pinocchio remains resonant and loved, but capturing its soul on film has been largely elusive, especially with regard to remaining true to the tone of Collodi's book, but reviews seem to indicate that Garrone has done just that, or if not, he's come the closest of any filmmaker yet.

From IndieWire:

“Pinocchio” gets better as it gets weirder, and taking cues from its Homeric origins, it gets very weird.


...Once the movie enters its loony collage-like trajectory, the hits keep coming. Pinocchio endures a range of imaginative horrors, from that terrifying whale to the eventual donkey transformation that in this version includes a hat-tip to Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar.” Of course, no “Pinocchio” is complete without a few white lies and a growing schnozzle, though this one seems like a pretty blatant metaphor for puberty (if it wasn’t already baked into the material from the start). Garrone’s penchant for juggling eerie soul-searching with ebullient storybook visuals matches Terry Gilliam in his prime, and the whole thing has been laced together by Dario Marianelli’s inspired cosmic score.

Above all, “Pinocchio” imbues its circumstances with a surprising degree of naturalism, thanks to the filmmaker’s careful handling of practical effects that suit the unusual tone. Unlike recent effects travesties of the “Cats” variety, “Pinocchio” understands the inherent disturbing quality of human faces melded to non-human bodies — from gastropods to a very funny tuna fish — and exploits that disconnect at every turn.
Concept art (Garrone)
...This story can only end one way, and when it does, “Pinocchio” tops off the silly-strange rhythm with a poignant finish. By the time it gets there, however, the movie has accrued many layers. Garrone doesn’t dig deep into the material as much as he revels in its surfaces, though the director of zany sociopolitical dramas like “Reality” and “Dogman” can’t help but inject a few contemporary zingers. Sitting in front of an ape judge, Pinocchio proclaims his innocence. “In this country, the innocent go to prison!” he’s told.

Such is the nature of Pinocchio’s plight, and no matter its otherworldly nature, Garrone’s version shows how the premise has grown more relatable with time. Pinocchio’s an innocent creature at the mercy of ever-changing surroundings who learns to take charge, which is enough to make him a walking zeitgeist. More than that, however, he embodies the endless frustrations of a cruel world, as well as the emotional charge that comes from learning to roll with its merciless twists and hope for a happy ending.

Regarding the approach to effects (and avoiding the "Cats curse") there is a shortish article and video overview showing the steps taken for the effects work in Garrone's Pinocchio HERE. It turns out that the boy Pinocchio is not a CG creation but instead largely prosthetics (at least until his nose grows) and these are what make him look wooden yet still manage to convey the acting nuances of ten-year-old (Federico Ielapi) playing the character. For folks interested in the creative visualization process, and the effect of blending live-action with puppets, prosthetics, and more, especially in fantasy films, this is a recommended side trip.

From The Guardian, who titles their review "Garrone Crafts a Satisfyingly Bizarre Remake":

Drawing on the original children’s story for his new live-action version, the Gomorrah director combines sentimentality and the grotesque in a unique way

There is something rich and strange and generous in Matteo Garrone’s new live-action version of the Pinocchio story, for which the director and his co-screenwriter Massimo Ceccherini have gone right back to the original 1883 children’s tale by Carlo Collodi. They have given us a story that combines sentimentality and grotesqueness in a really startling way. 


...There is so much that Garrone’s Pinocchio appears to resemble: there’s a bit of Tod Browning’s Freaks (and a bit of Frankenstein), echoes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the Old and New Testament. The moment when Pinocchio’s nose grows because he is lying is still fascinating. It’s a parable that has taught generations of little Disney fans never to fib. Audiences for this film, however, will notice that Pinocchio’s nose does not grow when he lies to the gorilla judge. The point is that the normalisation of lying is part of the humanising process. Pinocchio’s wooden face really is very strange. It does not look like that of any sort of boy, but rather a man or woman or cyborg in early middle age. There’s more than a touch of R2D2 about him, or even a lost figure from George Franju’s Eyes Without a Face. 

...In the end, Pinocchio is a parable of parenthood: when we have a child, there is something uncanny and strange about him or her, like a doll brought to life. In our hearts, perhaps, we can’t quite believe that this is a human being like us, who will come to have thoughts and feelings independently of us – become “real”, in fact.

Whatever is to come in the anticipated versions from Zemeckis and Del Toro (and the many filmmakers after who can't resist it), Garrone has set a new bar for filmmakers to achieve and that is a good thing. It's already a hit in Italy - a much bigger hit than Benigni's ever was, and critic reviews there and elsewhere in the world it has been released, are averaging four stars out of five - a vast improvement in critical rating as well.

Matteo Garrone's Pinocchio is only the second live-action movie version of this classic book to actually be made in Italy (as far as we can find), the same country the story was born in. While Roberto Benigni directed the first one (2002) and captured the Italian flavor in many ways he, unfortunately, not only had himself star as Pinocchio (a 49-year-old man at the time), he also attempted to bring a touch of Fellini to the movie, (you can read about the Benigni-Fellini-Pinocchio connection HERE), moves which didn't sit well with audiences anywhere, and essentially killed the rest of the interesting approach to the story. Garrone appears to have successfully hurdled this issue and the resulting audience skittishness about a live-action Pinocchio from an Italian director, even while embracing Benigni in this legacy in the much-more suited role of Gepetto. We are looking forward to seeing it when it becomes available to see safely!

Where Can I See It?

This is a tricky question to answer, entirely complicated by the pandemic.

Garrone's Pinocchio was released in Europe in December 2019 but coronavirus (COVID-19) has complicated the sales and theater release deals and contracts all over the world since, disrupting the usual roll-out of films intended to eventually reach English speaking audiences. Even in France, the release went directly to French Amazon Prime, rather than having the planned theatrical release. 

The film was released in theaters in the UK and Ireland from mid-August 2020 but other theatrical releases have been canceled due to lockdowns and theaters closing. 

In the US, Netflix has bought streaming rights (and currently has a blank placeholder page) but the streaming launch date is still undetermined, though likely to be in 2021.  Otherwise, it would appear that the film is still seeking a US release partner for any possibility of ever achieving theatrical release here, including for DVD and Blu-ray. 

We hope this is resolved in the near future!

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