- Nicholas Barber
- Film critic
This year saw the release of two films based on the Pinocchio story, but it is not difficult to tell them apart.
The first is a Robert Zemeckis-directed live-action adaptation of the 1940 Walt Disney cartoon, with Tom Hanks as the lovable Geppetto, and a voice-over by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy Cricket.
The second, directed by Guillermo del Toro, tells the story of Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley), whose child is killed by a shell in World War II, and he carves a boy out of wood, during a drunken frenzy, during Mussolini’s fascist rule in Italy. In this version, the main character dies multiple times.
Guillermo del Toro tells BBC Culture: “In our movie, Pinocchio dies three or four times, and he has a dialogue with death, and the character of death teaches him that the only way to live as a human being means that he will die in the end. There are about 60 cinematic adaptations of the story of Pinocchio, and I bet an amount.” It is a lot of money that our approach does not exist in any of the other versions.”
The Mexican director chose to include his name as part of the film’s title, “Pinocchio according to Guillermo del Toro,” and that makes sense. A stop-motion film, or the technique of moving graphics using successive still frames, could be considered the ideal production to sum up the essence of del Toro’s career.
The film’s bizarre, magical characters seem close to the characters in Hellboy (2004). And the conflict between unconventional hero Pinocchio (voice of Gregory Mann) and vengeful government official (voice of Ron Perlman) seems to echo the conflict in del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017).
Del Toro says, “We were clear from the start that this film would be a piece of “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” referring to two horror films he had produced years earlier that combined the Spanish Civil War with metaphysical worlds.
He continues: “I was clear [مع نتفليكس التي مولت الفيلم]I am not going to make a movie for children, nor for families, but rather a movie for me and for the work team.
Del Toro’s vision is unique, but he didn’t take a sweet fairy tale and make it a horrible one. Internationally, the most famous version of the story is still the Disney animated movie in which Pinocchio turns into a donkey and is swallowed by a giant sea monster. “I watched a Disney movie at a very young age, and it’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen,” del Toro says.
The original book is even more frightening. As del Toro says, there are nearly 60 films based on the Pinocchio story, “and even before the Disney movie, I’d see him in coloring books and comic books.” But the original novel takes its place among all these adaptations, as one of the strangest and most disturbing classics of children’s literature.
The author of the book is Carlo Lorenzini whose pseudonym, Carlo Collodi, was inspired by the name of his mother’s village. Civil servant, political journalist, and author worked for a publishing house in Florence, in 1875, translating an anthology of French fairy tales written in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The translation was such a success, that Collodi was asked to write more children’s stories with strong moral messages. In 1881, he began publishing The Doll’s Story as a weekly series in a children’s newspaper.
Anyone who knows Pinocchio from the movies should be careful before checking out the book. According to the original author, Geppetto is poorer than the character as it appears in Disney quotes or in Del Toro’s movie, as he draws fire on the wall, because he does not have enough money to light a real fireplace.
In the book, the cockroach we know appears differently from Jiminy Cricket or Sebastian Jay Cricket (voice of Ewan McGregor) in del Toro’s version. He is simply “The Talking Cockroach”, which does not exceed two pages in length, as Pinocchio throws a wooden mallet at him, and he ends up dead on the wall.
As for the blue fairy, she is the ghost of a little girl, speaking without moving her lips, in a low voice as if from another world. The cat and wolf who move the Pinocchio doll in the book do so from an oak tree, with a noose around Pinocchio’s neck until he nearly strangles him.
To make the story more bleak, the scene of Pinocchio hanging from a noose could have been the end of the story. As the writer was planning to leave his miserable hero hanging out in the last episode of the series, had it not been for the readers asking for more parts, to resume publishing after four months of interruption.
The second part wasn’t as horrific as the first. The dead girl is resurrected in the form of a fairy. But the story remains bafflingly strange. So why does Pinocchio meet a giant snake that laughs to death?
Fear of the world grown ups
The literary work closest to Collodi’s book in English is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, the second part of which is “Through the Looking Glass”, which was published in 1871, ten years before Pinocchio’s book. And the Disney movie, based on the story of Lewis Carroll, was produced in 1951, 11 years after the Pinocchio movie for the same company.
Anne Lawson Lucas, who translated Pinocchio and introduced it to the Oxford University Press edition, says both stories may be upsetting to children. “Alice’s adventures can seem scary or disturbing, and Pinocchio’s adventures can be tiring and even nightmarish,” she told BBC Culture.
For adults, Collodi’s whimsical narrative raises questions about the subject he is trying to parody or symbolically depict, and what the author was trying to say about the Kingdom of Italy, which had been united shortly before the series was published, in 1871.
In the introduction to the translation, Lucas writes: “The story of Pinocchio was compared to the Odyssey and to Dante’s Divine Comedy. In Italy in particular, a lot was written about the story and many interpretations were given to it, just as it is the case with the aforementioned masterpieces of literature. There were ideological, Marxist, philosophical and anthropological readings , psychological, and Freudian, of the story”.
One interpretation suggests that Pinocchio is an image of Christ, because the carpenter’s name is Geppetto, a diminutive of Giuseppe or Joseph, and that the fairy’s blue colors are consistent with the blue color traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary.
Lucas does not adopt this interpretation, but he hesitates in Guillermo del Toro’s film, as we find the doll in one of the scenes staring at the cross and thinking: “It’s made of wood too, why does everyone love it and not me?”
The perfect adaptation of the novel for the big screen, a charming 2019 Italian film written and directed by Matteo Garrone, starring Roberto Benigni as Geppetto. (In 2002, Benigni played the role of Pinocchio in a film directed by him, although he was 50 at the time.)
Garoni version, recording the meaning of fatherly love and rural poverty, against the backdrop of dusty scenes of Tuscany.
For Marc Gustafson, co-director of Del Toro’s film, Pinocchio is a “tale of creativity”, about a work of art that embarks on a private life, separate from its creator.
Gustafsson tells BBC Culture: “As an artist, you create something, you think you know what you’re doing, you present your work to the world, but it probably doesn’t get the reaction you wanted. But that’s a good thing in a way. You want to stir up the stagnant waters. That’s my response.” perfect verb.
The dominant theme in del Toro’s version is the injustice children face when they are bullied by adults. In Collodi’s novel, Pinocchio is punished every time he disobeys orders and, eventually, learns to do what is asked of him.
“We tried really hard to avoid that,” says del Toro. “I wanted to create a disobedient Pinocchio, and make disobedience a virtue. I wanted everyone but him to change. As the movie progresses, the cockroach learns from Pinocchio, while Pinocchio learns little from the cockroach.” “I may have been anti-mainstream in a way, but I found this attitude more honest about my own feelings as a child. I felt that domestication was hard and scary.”
What brings all the interpretations of the story together are Collodi’s indelible touches: a boy made of wood, a talking cockroach, and a nose that gets bigger at every lie. But alongside all of these traits, there is a powerful constant: as del Toro puts it: “fear of the adult world”.
The director says: “The idea of being thrown into a world controlled by adult values, which are not only hard to understand but eventually prove wrong. That’s how I felt as a child. All the things the adults were telling me, they, too, didn’t understand.”
In the first part of the book, we find a few bad guys who cause problems for Pinocchio. In the second part, there are four black rabbits, who enter the room carrying a coffin, to take it alive, and a judge (who happens to be a gorilla), who imprisons him because he has been the victim of a robbery.
Despite the fantasy aspect of these scenes, they convey fear, a sense of loss and helplessness in adult society, where nothing makes sense…all of which seems more familiar than the well-ordered and logical threads of most children’s books.
The same applies to the main character. Everyone knows Pinocchio wants to be a real boy, but the main reason he’s been such a beloved character for 150 years is because he’s as real as any other character in literature.
Instead of being a noble and intrepid hero, Pinocchio is rude, selfish, naive, inquisitive, forgetful, easily tempted, slow to learn from his mistakes, and upset when things go wrong, but kind, well-meaning, and capable of being brave. Wooden or not, he couldn’t be more human than that.