Plot: What’s it about?
You all know this one, Geppetto (Carlo Guiffre) makes a wooden boy, and the damn thing comes to life on him. The puppet is granted his boyhood thanks to a wish made by the old woodcarver, and a blue fairy (Nicoletta Braschi) floats on in and by golly, she grants the wish! Despite the allure of staying inside Geppetto’s crib, I mean I clocks alone would drive me nuts, not to mention the way that guy snores, Pinocchio (Roberto Benigni) gets bitten by the curiosity bug, and decided he needs to explore the world outside. As Pinocchio wanders aimlessly throughout the countryside, he is greeted by many moral tests, checking his bravery, loyalty, and honesty. If he passes these tests, he will not just be a wooden boy that can walk and talk, but a living, breathing boy! Yippee! Pinocchio is not alone in all this, however. His conscience, a little creepy talking cricket, is always hanging around, giving him pep-talks, lectures, and sermons. But does Pinocchio always listen? Hell no, and he ends up knee-deep in it. But how much trouble can a little wooden boy get into before he’s burned for firewood?
This film was first envisioned as a project for cinema master Federico Fellini, but after his death, Roberto Benigni became its director. His take on the immortal tale stands as the most expensive Italian production of all time, though it would find only modest success. An even lukewarm reception awaited here in America, after an English language version was hammered out and around fifteen minutes of footage was excised. Miramax has released Pinocchio in a two disc set, one disc with the original Italian version and the second with Hollywood’s English language edition. As expected, the original version is better in all respects, from the more natural presence to the restored director’s vision. But in either edition, Benigni’s grand vision is unrealized, at least in terms of storyline and cinematic magic. Yes, the visuals are superb and gorgeous, including some top notch visual effects, but its not enough to turn a wooden movie into a real, live classic. Perhaps previous takes on the Pinocchio tale have raised the bar too high, as Benigni’s rendition just seems tired most of the time, though as I said, it is a pleasure to look at. I’d recommend this movie as a rental to those interested, as it is worth a look, just not worth a purchase. Miramax has kindly included both versions also, so you can decide which one you prefer. Some additional extras would have most welcome also, but at least the original version is on deck.
The driving force behind this one is Roberto Benigni, whom Fellini envisioned as Pinocchio when the two first worked together. Fellini’s cinematic genius might have pulled off the impossible with this project, but Benigni lacks that level of talent. Instead, he uses the screen as a showcase to indulge his whims and pat himself on the back. Yes, he has the needed childlike presence to make the role seem realistic, but he is simply too silly in some scenes. As an actor, his skills cannot be denied, but maybe someone else should have sat in the director’s chair, if nothing else just to guide and hone his performance. Or by the same token, perhaps he should have directed someone else in the lead, though his acting is superior to his direction. His manic presence often makes for a memorable experience, even with a weak adaptation like this one, but I think this project could have used some refinements. Other films with Benigni include Life is Beautiful, The Voice of the Moon, The Monster, Son of the Pink Panther, and The Little Devil. The cast also includes Nicoletta Braschi (Mystery Train, You Upset Me), Carlo Giuffre (The Hateful Dead, Private Lessons), and Kim Rossi Stuart (The Garden of Eden, The Sleazy Uncle).
Video: How does it look?
Pinocchio is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Both versions look excellent, which is to be expected from such a new release. A few minor defects pop up on the print, but on the whole, the image is clean from start to finish. Which is great news, since this is such a visually potent movie. All the well crafted visuals shine in this treatment, especially all the bright and bold colors that bounce around the screen. The hues remain crisp and rich throughout, with no signs of error and flesh tones are natural also. No troubles with the contrast either, as black levels are smooth and refined, with no softness to be mentioned. All in all, a couple of great looking transfers that well showcase the film’s dazzling visuals.
Audio: How does it sound?
As I’ve mentioned before, this release includes both the original Italian soundtrack and an English language version. So you have to select which edition you’re interested in beforehand, since each disc houses a different version. I found both soundtracks to be solid, but as always, the dubbed option is quite deplorable. I know some folks hate subtitles, but come on, having a crew of mid-level stars record a dub is stupid. The synch is off and while this might be a family film, it just lessens the experience to lose the original language, if you ask me. The Italian version is quite good, with a clear and crisp presence that never disappoints. A lot of surround use is found in the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, so your speakers won’t have the night off. So be considerate and choose the original Italian mix, as the dub track just plain sucks. This release also includes a French language track, as well as optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
In addition to both the original Italian & Hollywood versions of the movie, this release includes a couple of behind the scenes featurettes. One looks at the special FAO Schwarz windows created in celebration of the picture, while the other chronicles the creation of the English language edition of the movie. Not a bad couple of small extras, but a Benigni commentary track would have been an excellent inclusion.