Pinocchio (2020) charms and disturbs in equal measure.

Pinocchio Review

Taking advantage of the emptiness of the release schedule, Matteo Garrone’s sumptuous live-action adaptation of “Pinocchio”, Carlo Collodi’s timeless morality tale, finds its way into theatres and – hopefully – a larger audience than it might otherwise have managed in the cut and thrust of the usual cinematic calendar.

When poor carpenter Gepetto (Roberto Benigni) carves a puppet from an enchanted piece of wood, the puppet comes to life. Naming his new ‘son’ Pinocchio, Gepetto only wants the best for his son, but the wilful puppet has other ideas and sets off on adventures of his own.

Garrone stays largely faithful to the original novel, filling the screen with sumptuous visuals, exquisite set design and the picturesque scenery of rural Italy. There’s an even chance, though, that the blending of animal and human characters may alarm smaller children but if you can look past the Moreauvian horror of some of the chimaeras, there’s a lot enjoy.

Compressing the novel into the two-hour run time does lead to the narrative becoming somewhat choppy and episodic and it doesn’t flow as well as it might otherwise do but the chief irritant is a repetitive and garrulous script, at least in the English dubbed version. It often feels like one hour of screenplay leads to two hours of movie simply because every single character repeats their dialogue at least once, if not multiple times. For such a visually rich movie, the script shows little faith in the images, make-up and costumes to tell the story without constant interjections from the characters.

Tautological tedium aside, this is a stimulating, surreal and beautiful telling of an age-old story, making the familiar feel fresh again. I only wish it had been possible to opt for a subtitled showing of the movie as – even though some of the original cast are involved in the English dub too (notably Pinocchio himself Federico Ielapi) it’s hard not to feel that the amplified weirdness of the dubbing performances robs the original actors of some of the more subtle aspects of their performance.