Matteo Garrone’s ultra-realistic retelling of the Pinocchio story is at its best during the dark macabre moments.
Pinocchio (2019) Synopsis
Impoverished carpenter Geppetto creates a lovely puppet of a boy, with the intention to tour the country with the puppet and earn a living. After the puppet comes to life, Geppetto names him Pinocchio and proudly announces to everyone that he now has a son. Pinocchio, however, is impudent and rebellious, and is soon separated from Geppetto. Would the two be united? Would the naïve Pinocchio also survives the many tribulations swimming his way, despite having the protection of a fairy?
Like many European fairy tales and children’s stories, Carlo Collodi’s world-famous story of a sentinel, disobedient wooden puppet is full of dark moments and social commentary.
The grim parts are typically removed, or at least sanitised, in modern retellings. (Update: Such as the 2022 Disney live-action remake) As necessary as this might be for the sake of younger audiences, there is inevitably a slight loss of flavour. Be it in terms of story weight or attractiveness for adults.
Matteo Garrone’s retelling faces these challenges too, of course, with his resolution (IMO) that of emphasizing the bizarre parts that could remain. On these, the supernatural bits are uniformly presented with minimal beautification, which makes them scary in many ways but also as macabre as they are fascinating. And hilarious.
In particular, the scenes within the Fairy’s mansion and the Judge’s court are absolutely riotous. Doubly impressively is also how these scenes are still greatly faithful to the original story, even as they are imbued with dark comedic moments. (Those undertaker rabbits and the “waxed” floor …)
More worthy of mention is also how the ultra-realistic depiction of a poverty-stricken, agrarian Italy highlights the subtler themes beneath the Pinocchio story, commentaries that are way broader than how a boy should behave. For example, is education truly the best escape from poverty? How were children, the unskilled and the indentured, exploited in those times?
In summary, Collodi’s masterpiece is an imaginative, brilliantly unforgiving examination of his times. By preserving this heart, and with the backing of an enthusiastic cast, Garrone enlivens this classic story for modern consumption. I’m quite sure that in the years to come, this adaptation will be considered one of the greatest retellings of the beloved fairy tale ever.