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Pinocchio 2019 ****

Tickets for Tenet went on sale today in the UK; that’s a welcome development, but until Christopher Nolan’s regularly delayed train turns up at the station, cinemas worldwide having to have our own fun without the cavalry arriving in the form of American imports. Last year’s box-office champions Disney have meekly surrendered, releasing Mulan directly to streaming; it’s a move likely to permanently weaken their on-going lock on family film and create rare opportunities for local alternatives to fill the void.

As director of the popular crime epic Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone might seem like a strange choice here, but his Tale of Tales indicated potential for a fresh take on the classic Italian folk story. Garrone has taken an old-school style to the puppet-who-wants-to-be-a-boy tale, filming in Italian, skipping the slatherings of CGI that might be expected, and coming up with an innovative film that’s genuinely surprising to watch. This wooden-topped Pinocchio (Federica Ielapi) looks like something from a Jan Svankmajer animation, and the story retains sharp edges in a un-Disney-fied way; at one point, the poor boy is hung from a tree. Otherwise, there’s whales, con-men, circuses, Blue Fairies and the expected characters, but none of them look or sound like their familiar counterparts; the life-sized talking cricket gave me the fear. The story has been rebooted, or rather, returned to the original source, Carlo Coloddi’s 1883 book, and despite initial reservations, it makes for an intoxicating, charming adventure.

Italy was somewhat ahead of the curve in having this Pinocchio as their number one movie last Christmas; like France, they pride themselves in flaying the flag for home grown product versus US imports. But in hard-scrabble 2020, America’s Avengers won’t be coming to save the world again; Garrone’s warm and original version should appeal to adults and children alike.

What may be confusing for some here is the presence of Roberto Benigni, who plays Geppetto; after winning Oscars for Life is Beautiful, Benigni made his own sentimental version of this story in 2002, but his role here is little more than an extended cameo. Times change, but a great story endures; Garrone deserves a slap on the back and a big gold watch for exhuming material presumed buried in inert Disney branding. Pinocchio may not be a real boy, but this is a real film, glowingly shot on Tuscan locations and offering a traditional, literate folk-tale feel with no strings attached.

Pinocchio hits UK cinemas from August 14th 2020.

Thanks to Vertigo for early access to this title.

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  1. Went to see this at the Odeon on your recommendation. This is both a charming and frightening picture. I found the idea of the boy being hanged from a tree and then thrown into the sea with a block of stone tied to his legs a bit over-the-top for a film rated PG. Plus a guy who rounds up kids to turn them into donkeys. It had an element of the Singing-Ringing-Tree about it, all the characters apart from Gepetto oddly-costumed and the idea of the animals – fox, cat, snail – played by humans was a bit freaky at times. But there were also some magical elements and a wooden puppet who finds his humanity was quite endearing. I also liked the ordinariness of the setting, hardworking peasants, people struggling to make a living. The opening scenes of a starving Gepetto inventing work for himself in order to get a bite to eat were quite moving. But the images were first class with very clear and often concise composition and a beautiful score. Not so keen on the dubbing. Recommended though not entirely sure it’s for young kids.

    • Yes, this was a much better film that expected, big in scope, strong visually. Jimminy Cricket really freaked me out, and some of the creatures were pure nightmare fuel. Not quite sure whether kids would dig it, but Italian folk tales are interesting to me, and it’s good to strip the Disney assumptions away and get back to the nub of the story. Still freaking out about the Singing Ringing tree, still appears in my dreams…

  2. Sounds a good one. Thanks for the alert. You are right that the US will not come to the cinemas’ rescue and more sources of movies need to be tapped into rather than routinely ignored.

    • I’ll bet they’re glad they held this one back; there are people keen to resume the cinema habit, and this film is better than most Disney live action….

    • From the top five films worldwide in 2019, they’re ikely to have none in 2020. I totally agree with you, they had a sainted position as family entertainers, but they’ve been knocked off their perch.

  3. Tenet ticket’s going on sale huh…so looking forward to that one. (With the exception of Dunkirk, I absolutely adore Christopher Nolan’s movies). But I digress.
    I have never heard of this movie (well that is I of course know the Disney version), but I have to say this sounds quite intriguing. Thanks for sharing it😊

    • Agreed re Nolan, never puts a foot wrong IMHO; but surprised you don’t like Dunkirk?

      Wasn’t even going to request a screener for this film, but was surprised how good it was, worth keeping an eye out for…

      • Well…don’t like is maybe too strong a word, but I expected a lot more from it. From a technical point of view it was terrific, but I felt no attachment to any of the characters, and for a war movie, that was a bit of a miss for me. That said, it still isn’t a bad movie, but out of all the Nolan films, this one I liked the least.
        I will definitely keep an eye out for this one 😊

        • I think Dunkirk is one Netflix in some territories; however you watch it, I’d implore you to take a look when in the mood. It’s not a conventional movie at all, but Nolan’s obsession with time is the big thing here, and there’s a mysticism that’s really unique. I think it’s a brilliant film, and hope to find converts amongst non-believers!

          • Haha, well I’m always in for giving something a second chance that’s for sure 😊 Maybe my expectations when going into the theatre for this one were too high, so if it’s still on Netflix (which I think is correct) I will try to give it a second chance in the upcoming weeks. Will let you know 😊

            • I’ll revise my original review and pop it up soon. Watch something like Pearl Harbor first, and remind yourself how clunky a whole bunch of back-stories can be. Dunkirk isn’t a normal war movie at all, it really breaks the mould. Good luck!

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