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February 25, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Eighty years after The Walt Disney Co. brought Italian children’s-book writer Carlo Collodi’s characters from his The Adventures of Pinocchio to life, three other film studios are trying their hand at it. There’s Disney itself with a live-action version directed by Robert Zemeckis; there’s Netflix, with a “darker,” political version from Guillermo del Toro; and there’s this one that debuted out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival on Sunday.

There have been other Pinocchio‘s that have hobbled onto the screen in the past, including one in 2002 directed by and starring Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) In that one, he played the puppet; in this one he plays the puppet carver, Geppetto. At a news conference following the screening, Benigni remarked that Pinocchio “is a fundamentally important book for me.” And although Collodi had no hesitation in calling his work a children’s book, Benigni maintained, “It’s also an adult book, it’s a great novel.”

Certainly, it would seem, the filmmakers, including especially director Matteo Garrone, were seeking to attract adults with this vision of the classic tale. However, some critics were quick to complain that the result turns out to be neither a kids’ film nor an adults’. Too scary for kids who see the come-to-life puppet exploited, abused and/or terrorized at every turn; too weird for adults, who may not understand why so many of the characters are half-real (and why do all the talking puppets except Pinocchio have strings attached to them if no one is actually manipulating them?)

As Jan K├╝veler in the German weekly Die Welt eloquently observed, makeup and computers have produced “perfect mixes of man and machine. Only the fairytale has been lost. The puppets have human eyes, they move as naturally as their wooden legs allow. … The wood consists of data; computer worms mill zeros into ones.” And all of this technical genius, he suggests, takes “the story told a thousand times and in all forms no further.” What it does produce, commented Jay Weissberg in Variety, is “a child-friendly movie with its fair share of enchantment but curiously lacking in memorable highlights.” And for adults, Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian concluded, Pinocchio could nevertheless be accepted as “a weirdly satisfying spectacle.”