Live action Pinocchio 'a triumph of old-fashioned film-making artistry'

Roberto Benigni as Gepetto and Federico Ielapi as Pinocchio
Damon Smith

PINOCCHIO (PG, 124 mins) Fantasy/Adventure/Drama. Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Massimo Ceccherini, Rocco Papaleo, Marine Vacth, Davide Marotta, Maria Pia Timo, Gigi Proietti. Director: Matteo Garrone.

LIFE was beautiful for Italian writer-director Roberto Benigni in 1999 when he collected two Academy Awards including the golden statuette for Best Actor in a Leading Role. His response was to spearhead a lavish passion project, a visually sumptuous but misguided adaptation of Carlo Collodi's timeless fairy tale Pinocchio.

Almost 20 years later, Benigni redeems himself as ageing woodcarver Geppetto in Matteo Garrone's live-action adventure, which reintroduces darker elements from the book that were tempered by Walt Disney's classic 1940 animation.

Emboldened with stunning set design, costumes and jaw-dropping prosthetic make-up courtesy of Mark Coulier, who collected Oscars for The Iron Lady and The Grand Budapest Hotel, this Pinocchio is a fantastical feast for the senses tightly strung to the episodic structure of Collodi's 1883 novel.

Consequently, Garrone's picture outstays its welcome at more than two hours and scenes establishing a tender father-son bond between Geppetto and his wooden ward are a lesson in patience that younger children might struggle to learn without fidgeting.

Once the eponymous puppet is spirited far from home, pacing noticeably quickens to herald a colourful parade of travelling companions before a moving resolution that underlines the strength of family ties in crisis.

Geppetto (Benigni) lives hand to mouth in a 19th-century Tuscan community. When a travelling puppet theatre owned by Mangiafuoco (Gigi Proietti) pitches a big top on the edge of the town, Geppetto fashions his own puppet out of a trunk of enchanted wood and christens the creation Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi).

"My son's been born!" he screams with delight to perplexed neighbours.

Geppetto trades his only jacket and waistcoat for a spelling book so Pinocchio can attend school.

Instead, the inquisitive scamp defies the warning of a Talking Cricket (Davide Marotta), "Woe betide children who disobey their parents, they will always come to grief", to sneak out of class and attend the puppet show.

Pinocchio becomes a prisoner of Mangiafuoco and almost ends up as firewood. He escapes with five gold coins, which sly Wolf (Massimo Ceccherini) and conniving Cat (Rocco Papaleo) plot to steal from his wooden palms, before a kindly Fairy (Marine Vacth) and her snail housekeeper (Maria Pia Timo) take pity.

Meanwhile, distraught Geppetto embarks on a quest to reunite with his missing boy.

"I'll find him even if I have to cross the seas," prophetically vows the woodcarver.

Pinocchio is a triumph of old-fashioned film-making artistry, which employs digital effects only as a last resort. The defining image of the title character's elongating nose is restricted to one charming scene and quickly dismissed by a flock of industrious woodpeckers.

Benigni plumbs deep wells of pathos while young Ielapi subtly carves out childlike wonder and regret beneath the wood grain.

Rating 8/10

Released August 14

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