Review – Bonkers Benigni Bounces Back (“Pinocchio”)

Pinocchio. The really bizarre 1883 Italian children’s book by Carlo Collodi has been made, remade, and rebooted to death from Disney’s 1940 iconic animated feature film to those .99 cent DVD’s at the Dollar Store. But here’s a new live-action version that’ll leave you questioning your own sanity.

Faithful, almost TOO faithful the original book, this movie should be called, The Really F’d-up Adventures of Pinocchio. It’s not for kids, it’s off-putting for adults, and it’s just plain insane to believe someone actually made this. Roberto Benigni, who played Pinocchio in the 2002 version, stars as a dirt-poor, starving Geppeto who’s SO hungry, he eats scraps of wood! After seeing a traveling puppet show, he gets an idea: carve a stringless puppet to make some money. But the ‘magic’ log he carves the puppet from comes alive, and he dubs this new son of his, Pinocchio (Federico Lelapi under lotsa wooden make-up).

But Pinocchio is rather independent and would rather check out that traveling puppet show than go to school, and that’s where he’s kidnap. . . er, puppet-napped by a scary show owner, Mangiafuoco (Gigi Proleitti) who looks like Hagrid on meth. Pinocchio is let go with five gold coins, but runs afoul of two con men. Well, they’re called Fox (screenwriter Massimo Ceccherini) and Cat (Rocco Papaleo), but they look more like messed-up humans on crack. They try and take the money from the wooden boy by hanging him (OMG!), but they fail. Fortunately, a child called the Fairy with Turquoise Hair (Alida Baldari Calabria) saves him and teaches him a lesson about lying.

But no sooner than leaving, Pinocchio is tricked again by the Fox & Cat and loses his five gold coins and, seeking justice in a court presided by a crazy chimpanzee, is very nearly thrown in prison. Going home, he learns that Geppeto has gone looking for him, but he nearly dies in his travels. He’s rescued by a now-adult Turquoise-Haired Fairy (Marine Vacth) and sent to school, but he leaves with a rascally Lucignolo (Alessio Di Domenicantonio) who takes him to the no-holds-barred Land of Toys where they turn into donkeys! Pinocchio is sold to a circus, injured, then drowned in the ocean.

The Fairy changes him back in time to find Geppeto inside a truly horrific-looking shark/whale hybrid. They escape with the help of a disturbing talking tuna and go back home, where Pinocchio has to work to feed his dying pappa. Finally, the Fairy makes him a real boy! This is one messed-up movie recreated from one equally messed-up book! It starts out whimsical enough, with glorious direction by Matteo Garrone, but after about thirty minutes of badly dubbed English, strange, bizarre, and weird things start happening in the film, and you KNOW you’re in for nearly two hours of some of the most WTH moments ever put on the screen.

Be prepared for some great CGI work with Pinocchio, but OMG! The Talking Cricket, Snail-Nanny, Monkey Judge, and the Turquoise Fairy’s doctors and undertakers are something straight out of a nightmare. I may never sleep again! Believe it or not, this movie made HUGE money in Italy when released last year! A dubbed version is now available on VOD, but be prepared to see some strange stuff! 

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Pinocchio (2002)

Since the new version of Pinocchio stars Italian film actor and Academy Award winner, Roberto Benigni as Geppetto, the father of the talking wooden puppet, it’s only fitting that this comparison review is of the movie where he played Pinocchio! Yeah, he really did that!

Italian produced & imported, this self-gratifying project of Benigni (he wrote, starred, and directed it) is the most bizarre, surreal, oddest, and the most overwhelming descent into WTH-ness you’ll ever see. Be prepared to see people dressed like human/animal hybrids like those creatures from The Island of Dr. Moreau, and the worst dialogue dubbing ever! Based on Carlo Collodi’s original book, it’s like Fellini by way of Alejandro Jodorowsky and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starting off with the Blue Fairy (Nicoletta Braschi, voiced by Glenn Close) whose fancy white coach (she can’t fly!) is pulled by hundreds of white mice. Yeah, get ready folks, this is gonna get weird!

That leads us to Geppetto (Carlo Giuffre, voiced by David Suchet) who carves Pinocchio (Benigni, voiced by Breckin Meyer) out of a magical log. BUT this Pinocchio is 6ft tall, 35, human, and bears absolutely NO resemblance to a puppet, yet everyone calls him a puppet! The first of many WTH moments. Dressed like an Italian circus clown, Pinocchio is full of life, but totally out-of-control. He’s reckless, a brat, throws temper tantrums, and constantly (and I do mean constantly) gets into trouble and says, “I won’t get into trouble anymore! I’ll be good! I promise!” But he never, ever does.

Being ‘newborn’, he’s quite dumb and runs afoul of con men (er, con-animals), the Fox (Bruno Arena/Cheech Marin) and the Cat (Max Cavallari/Eddie Griffin) who rob him blind, then hang him (yes, they hang him!), even though the Blue Fairy sees this and does nothing! Pinocchio almost gets eaten by a gigantic Stromboli-like guy called Mangiafuoco (Franco Javarone/Kevin James) at a puppet show, he tries to murder his Cricket conscience (Peppe Barra/John Cleese), a tiny bald-headed human/insect with antennae–disturbing, and then he gets thrown in prison for five years by a chimpanzee judge for being a dimwit!

Oh, but there’s more! Geppetto apparently dies at sea looking for him, the Blue Fairy becomes his surrogate mother, and Pinocchio and his former prison buddy, Leonardo (Kim Rossi Stuart/Topher Grace), take off for Fun Forever Land (i.e. Pleasure Island) where mayhem rules. There, they both get turned into donkeys that perform in a circus. Injured, donkey-Pinocchio gets drowned in the sea, but the Blue Fairy turns him back into a puppet. BUT! That doesn’t stop a monstrous shark (not a whale!) from swallowing Pinocchio, who finds his papa inside. The rest is the same: they miraculously get out, go home, Pinocchio is finally obedient to his dad, and wakes up to become a real boy, er. . .man.

This is one terrible, awful movie. Benigni and his co-writer, Vincenzo Cerami (Life is Beautiful) must’ve been out drinkin’ one night, as the screenplay is SO hokey, SO overly-written, SO child-friendly, it’s practically a parody of itself from the very moment Benigni is revealed as a 6foot tall, 35-year-old, very human-looking “puppet” who is trying to act like a spoiled little boy! It never works and it’s embarrassing to watch. Sure, his direction is solid, and the whimsy-factor is there, but my God!! The second he decided to try and pass himself off as a “little wooden boy” had disaster written all over it. Benigni is especially horrible with his way, way over-exaggerated gestures and acting. He’s like Jim Carrey on crack.

Now, I can suspend my disbelief just so far, but this chaotic story with its jumbled & hackneyed plot, mind-bending side-stories, and WTH moments had me pondering what drugs the writers were on when they wrote this. Really, you have to see this to believe it. There’s a scene in prison where Pinocchio and Leonardo (aka Lampwick) share a tangerine lollypop that is SO jaw-dropping strange, SO “what the hell am I watching?!”, that words fail in describing it. Fellini and Jodorowsky would have been proud. 

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