Film Reviews: Wednesday, January 2, 2003
Pinocchio
Starring Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi. Directed by Roberto Benigni. Written by Vincenzo Cerami and Roberto Benigni, based on Carlo Collodi’s novel. Rated G.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Jiminy Cricket!

Roberto Benigni is terriblein his narcissistic versionof Pinocchio.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Conan O’Brien did a comedy bit on his show four years ago predicting that Roberto Benigni would someday lose many of his newfound fans by making a sequel to Life Is Beautiful called Life Is Beautiful 2: Electric Boogaloo. The reality for Benigni, in the form of his latest film Pinocchio, is possibly even more disastrous. His overstuffed take on Carlo Collodi’s fairy tale is so tacky and misbegotten that break-dancing Nazis would look completely at home here.

Why did Benigni feel the need to make another version of Pinocchio? There are already so many movies about the wooden boy, most notably Disney’s 1940 animated film. It’d be something if Benigni had access to top-notch special effects to render this story properly magical, but the effects here are amateurish — the pine log bouncing down the street at the film’s beginning is an obvious example, and the whale that swallows Pinocchio is wholly unbelievable. The director gives us rolling valleys and snowy, picturesque 19th-century streets in a labored attempt to manufacture a fairyland, but he doesn’t even come close. The human actors portraying the animals are in costumes that look like they were bought from a corner store. (This might actually be a deliberate effect, but the whole production looks so bad that you can’t be sure.)

The dubbed soundtrack adds to the fake atmosphere. Benigni, like a significant number of foreign filmmakers (especially in Italy), doesn’t like his movies shown with subtitles, so English-speaking actors deliver the dialogue for the Italian actors. The Anglophone cast includes people such as Glenn Close, John Cleese, and Eric Idle, but none of them makes an impression. The exception is Breckin Meyer, a last-minute replacement for Benigni himself, who’s actively grating as the voice of Pinocchio.

I’m not sure, though, that any voice-over actor could have salvaged Benigni’s performance. The Italian clown, who used to be much more tolerable, is in the throes of a career phase in which his antics rival Robin Williams’ at his most skin-crawlingly self-satisfied. From the moment he appears on screen and starts running around a room destroying stuff, he projects the air of someone who thinks he’s endlessly funny and lovable. As anyone who’s been around movies knows, this is death for a comic actor. It doesn’t help him that the story is repetitive, with Pinocchio continually getting into trouble and then begging forgiveness from the Blue Fairy (Nicoletta Braschi), so we’re subjected to the same act over and over again.

The best you can say for this painfully earthbound fantasy is that it gives you a new appreciation for the unsettling and truly bizarre Disney film, whose dark, mysterious shadings are in keeping with good fairy tales. Pinocchio wants so badly to be life-affirming (and, more importantly, Benigni-affirming) that it’ll immediately make you want to burn down the nearest puppet factory.


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