Although a huge hit in Italy, Roberto Benigni’s film version of Pinocchio, disappeared after a brief run in New York back in 2002.
What happened? I heard that the reviews were bad but at the time my favorite movie reviewers either didn't see the movie or brushed it aside as not even worth a review. Even so, given Benigni's worldwide stature, why did the distributor give up so readily?
I immediately suspected foul play. Perhaps, Hollywood was taking revenge for the way Benigni took over the Academy Award gala on the night he won his Oscar for “Life is Beautiful.”
Or maybe the critics couldn't stomach a Pinocchio that was so far removed from Disney's darling little puppet boy. After all, Carlo Collodi's original Pinocchio is the Italian Huck Finn. He is an impudent, mischievous rascal who refuses to be tamed or civilized and can never stay out of trouble no matter whom he betrays or hurts. Even before he is fashioned into a puppet, he is such an ornery piece of raw wood that his original owner gives him away to poor Gepetto. On his first day after being fashioned into a puppet, Pinocchio runs away from home, gets Gepetto thrown into jail, and smashes a pedantic little cricket (Disney's famous Jiminy Cricket) with a hammer for presuming to give him good advice.
With the release of Benigni's Pinocchio on DVD we now have an opportunity to see that Benigni plays Collodi's puppet to perfection. He was made for the role. From the first moment we see him bounce into life in Gepetto's workship Benigni is entirely believable as the puppet boy. He plays the role with all of his characteristice innocence, bragadoccio, and feeling.
Moreover, he has made a wonderful, magical movie. His wife, Nicoletta Braschi, again appears with him this time as an incredibly beautiful blue fairy or "fata." The cinematography is equally beautiful and the special effects are spectacular. The opening scene with the Blue Fairy's carriage being drawn by hundreds of mice sets the tone of the whole movie as an enchanted adventure.
The DVD comes with two versions of the movie. One is in the original Italian with subtitles, and the other is a substantially shortened dubbed version. The dubbed version probably explains the commercial failure of the movie in America. Benigni's great comic voice and expressions have been replaced with a voice that sounds like a precocious American pre-teen. I guess the distributor thought that the subtitled version would not work with American children.
I watched the Italian version with my 12 year old grandson and he loved it. I’ve shown it to groups of educated seniors and they’ve loved it. Too bad, most American children and adults will never see this movie classic.