Disney’s live action adaptation of its 1940 classic might be on the horizon, but first comes Matteo Garrone’s (‘Gomorrah’) more faithful take, based on Florentine author Carlo Collodi’s nineteenth-century tale. Very un-Disney-like in its mischievous sense of the macabre, the Italian’s adaptation is a visually arresting, old-fashioned creature feature, full of mad monsters that bring to mind the horrors of Walter Murch’s ‘Return to Oz’.
Garrone, of course, has previous in bringing ickily tactile fables to the big screen. His ‘Tale of Tales’ (2015) was a bawdy anthology fantasy, starring Salma Hayek and Toby Jones. This time around he keeps things thoroughly Italian, with Roberto Benigni playing poverty-stricken wood carver, Geppetto. (Of course, Benigni also directed and starred in his own ill-fated adaptation of ‘Pinocchio’.) The familiar story of a plucky puppet who becomes a ‘real boy’ isn’t really the focus here. Instead, newcomer Federico Ielapi stars as the wooden marionette who must tame his unruly id and listen to the advice of his elders.
The world that Garrone and make-up maestro Mark Coulier craft is populated with wild zoomorphic creatures that are both malevolent and benign. There’s a homely snail who acts as the maid to Pinocchio’s blue-haired fairy protector (Marine Vacth), and Maurizio Lombardi as a giant tuna who looks like something out of ‘The Mighty Boosh’.
The result is a bizarre fairytale extravaganza, and Garonne should be credited for the thoughtful way he has brought his vision to life. Each frame set against the Tuscan backdrop glows with the love of traditional methods of movie making. It’s a gust of fresh air in a CG-dominated age.
But while it’s a feast for the eyes, ‘Pinocchio’ is perhaps too faithful to the fairytale format. Unlike the work of Guillermo del Toro, or the film adaptation of Angela Carter’s ‘Company of Wolves’, to which it bears some similarity, this adaptation doesn’t have the same rewarding psychological depth. ‘Tale of Tales’ is an openly adult film, full of blood, sex, and violence. This world is sweeter and the risks a little less high. But so too the rewards.