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The story of Pinocchio is one of the most recognizable and beloved fairy tales of all time. The original children’s novel by Italian author Carlo Collodi was published in 1883, and the misadventures of the animated marionette whose nose grows with every lie he tells along with the old woodcarver who fashioned him lives on to this very day through oral tradition, academia, books, plays, and of course Hollywood movies.

The original animated film came out in 1940 and was produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It was just the second animated feature produced by Disney, and it bombed at the box office upon its release. However, the movie was reissued in 1945, and the studio hit pay dirt. 

There have been many adaptations of the strange coming-of-age folktale over the years to varying degrees of success, but one film in the Pinocchio oeuvre has a truly notorious reputation. 2002’s Pinocchio, written, directed, and starring Academy Award winner Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) scored a whopping zero on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer! And The Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum said the film was “truly awful.” You might think it would be hard to rebound from that kind of debacle in the unforgiving world of global cinema, but you might be wrong.

Roberto Benigni is at it again! This time the Italian actor is playing the old woodcarver Geppetto, and Pinocchio is played by nine-year-old newcomer Federico lelapi. Shot entirely on location in Italy, this year’s Pinocchio adheres to the original novella rather than the previous movie adaptations—and to stunning effect.

Director Matteo Garrone does a masterful job of balancing the whimsical yet harrowing nature of the drama with the daunting technical requirements of bringing a wooden boy to life. That is, without looking artificial, or worse, cheesey. 

According to Wikipedia, the original Pinocchio was “a groundbreaking achievement in the area of effects animation, giving realistic movement to vehicles, machinery and natural elements such as rain, lightning, smoke, shadows and water.”

Similarly, Garrone’s Pinocchio is a marvel of modern filmmaking. Rather than going with digital special effects or motion-capture technology, the film uses good old-fashioned prosthetic make-up, fantastic set design and decorations, and outrageous costumes to bring its characters, especially the title character, to life. 

The original story by Collodi explored the themes of unbridled youth, the consequences of rash decisions, growing up in a magical yet wicked world, and the dangers of mendacity. Garrone remains true to these themes and to the exquisite illustrations of the seminal text. 

Indeed, 2019’s Pinocchio is one dark tale. Some might even say … creepy. With its Guillermo del Toro-esque set design and haunting, enigmatic atmosphere, this most recent Pinocchio takes Disney’s original vision to a whole new level of Cimmerian shade. In fact, it could be argued the film should be rated R. It is actually rated PG, but it may be unsuitable for children of all ages.

That being said, the mysterious fable is chock full of heart, soul, music, and warmth. But growing up is no easy feat, and the trials and travails of youth can be terrifying, if not downright cruel—particularly for a budding prevaricator. The filmmakers didn’t shy away from the darkness, nor did they sunshade the light.

Regardless, with Roberto Benigni, Federico lelapi, Marine Vacth, Massimo Ceccherini, and a host of tremendously talented and bewitching actors, as well as award-winning mise-en-scene, the Italian rendering of this classic fable is one wild ride. 

Pinocchio will be released in the United States and Canada by Roadside Attractions on December 25, 2020.

Oh, in case you were wondering, the film holds an approval rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.