Pinocchio (2002) Miramax Films
1 hr. 48 mins.
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Carlo Giuffre, Kim Rossi Stuart, Mino Bellei, Alessandro Bergonzoni, Corrado Pani, Vincenzo Cerami, Peppe Barra
Directed by: Roberto Benigni




Photo: Miramax Films

There’s something mighty surreal (if not grandly silly) about watching a hyperactive middle-aged man play the wooden wonder boy from Carlo Collodi’s classic fairy tale, especially if it’s from an annoyingly fidgety Oscar-winning performer such as Life is Beautiful star Roberto Benigni. Well, Benigni concocts his exceedingly tepid version of the children’s fable Pinocchio by reinventing the formula as a giddy man-child protagonist. Predictably, the results are colossally disposable if not instantly forgettable. This ill-conceived and interminable project plays like a disjointed session for Benigni to go berserk and regress like some unruly balding adolescent on Prozac. Benigni must be an accidental baseball player because as a clueless filmmaker behind this visually spry but excruciating narrative, he strikes out three times as co-writer, director, and actor for this staggering idiocy-driven farce.

So what is it about Benigni’s Pinocchio that begs the scrutiny of its bloated and tacky presentation? Could it be the distracting and embarrassing performance from the 50-year old star’s penchant for jumping around in this dud like some simple-minded lunatic? Or is it the distinctive eyesore costumes that look as if they came off the rack from a Fellini flea market? Maybe it’s the hideously inane screenplay by Benigni and fellow co-writer/co-star Vincenzo Cerami that makes this witless and hollow kiddie flick the desperately unimaginative ruse that it is? One thing is certain—if Benigni gets any notion in bringing Peter Pan to the big screen courtesy of his own doing, then your instincts should tell you to run in another direction…and take Tinkerbell along with you in the process! Benigni’s Pinocchio has a serious dose of splinters in its lame and torturous conception.

The premise’s set up is such that an errant log falls off the back a moving cart thus wreaking havoc through the quaint little Italian village until it settles at the doorstep of an astonished Geppetto (Carlo Giuffre). And of course folks, you know the rest of the details. Soon the resourceful Geppetto uses the lump of wood to create an animated lump that soon would be Benigni’s mature-looking Pinocchio. Geez, couldn’t Geppetto just have acted normally while using the log responsibly by tossing it in his fireplace instead? After all, it would have definitely spared us the flavorless exploits of Benigni’s irritating walking two-by-four menace.

And so the befuddled Pinocchio demonstrates this consistent bad behavior all in the name of wanting to be accepted as a real little boy worthy of acceptance from the uncaring world around him. The wooden weasel is featured in gratingly charmless scenes where he’s asked to go through the plodding chaotic motions—the pinheaded puppet does everything he can to get on our last fragile nerves. Whereas Benigni’s tree-made tyke engages in sentimental angst meant to reinforce the cutesy emotional angle of the alienated hero, we’re left with nothing more than an empty and phony gesture bordering on the cusp of far-fetched manipulation. Pinocchio doesn’t draw any sympathetic vibes as much as he garners the pathetic platitudes based on his deflating adventures.

Some may find Benigni’s take on Collodi’s whimsical kiddie exposition quite entertaining as it’s a reliably familiar vehicle that generations of children—old and young alike—grew up with during the course of many years. Sure, Pinocchio’s trademark nose is stretched out like a broomstick every time the log-made lad tells a lie. Then there’s the whale-swallowing incident. And the rest of the notable Pinocchio pals are on board such as Jiminy Cricket (Peppe Barra) and The Blue Fairy (played by Benigni’s real-life wife and constant co-star Nicoletta Braschi). However, there’s never any convincing chemistry or magical mixture that elevates this graceless story beyond its relentlessly lackluster aura.

If anything, Pinocchio feels like an inflated, lethargic copycat. Benigni fails miserably to be flexible enough to give his unique twist to the put upon puppet boy with the penchant for wanting to belong. Plus, there is no genuine resiliency or audaciousness in the misguided moviemaker trying to pass himself off as the lead role. If Benigni was going for the irreverent concept of playing Pinocchio, he missed the mark terribly therefore making his turn look more eerie not to mention frighteningly ridiculous. There’s a remarkably feeble attempt to dress this jittery showcase up as a free-spirited and colorful event that was sure to pander to the inner innocence in us all. But all Benigni and company manage to do is remind us how much we miss Walt Disney and his legendary touch to making these eternal cartoon characterizations come to life.

How can anyone live happily ever after when witnessing the woeful tripe that Benigni proudly directed, co-wrote and starred in with blindfolded glee? This overproduced piece of dreck is shockingly bad and absolutely unnecessary. Inexplicably unpolished and clumsily executed, this particular edition of Pinocchio needs to whittle away into some useful sawdust. Hmmm…might I suggest that the wayward wooden one end it all by stuffing himself into an electric pencil sharpener?

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Frank Ochieng


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