Roberto Benigni’s 1998 masterpiece Life is Beautiful was not only my favorite film of that year, but it also placed second on my list of the top films of the 90s. So when I heard that Benigni was following it up with a version of the classic tale Pinocchio and making it the most expensive, elaborate fantasy in Italy’s film history, I got really excited.
Still, when it came time to see the film, I found myself dreading it. For some reason Miramax did not have enough confidence in American audiences to release the film in Italian, so they dubbed it with American voice actors. This despite the fact the Life is Beautiful became the highest grossing foreign film in history (only to be surpassed a couple years later by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
Still I went in with an open mind. After all, it was a chance to see Benigni’s crazy antics on the big screen again. I left in agony, unable to believe the disaster I had just witnessed. Just as I expected, the voiceovers were horrible, but the most unfortunate thing is that I doubt it would have been any better in Italian.
The movie opens with a runaway log rampaging through the streets of a small village, finally coming to rest on the doorstep of a carpenter named Geppetto (Carlo Giuffrè). Geppetto uses the wood to create a puppet. When the puppet magically comes to life, he names him Pinocchio.
Despite being in his 40s, Benigni chose to play the puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. This is no problem, because hey, if a puppet can talk, I’m sure it can look any age. The problem is that Benigni makes no effort to distinguish the puppets from the real people. The only give away seems to be the funny clown costume he wears. Other than that, there is no way to tell who is a puppet and who is not.
Benigni’s Pinocchio has his many misadventures, including an encounter with a couple of thieves, the accidental killing of a schoolmate and the mischief at a theme park that turns him into a donkey. It all leads to his imprisonment in the belly of a huge shark (shark?) and a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of both Geppetto and the Blue Fairy.
Despite the money that went into the film’s production, the movie’s sets are plain, familiar and unimpressive. The special effects are horrible and the movie’s actors obviously haven’t had much experience dealing with them. Sadly, some of the movie’s funniest moments came when actors reacted horribly to these cheesy special effects.
I have seen some bad dubbing in my day, but this is by far the worst. The English voices seem completely disconnected from anything that is going on on-screen. None fair worse than Breckin Meyer (Rat Race) who has the unenviable job of trying to dub his voice for Benigni. The bad dubbing makes the actors’ performances look even worse than they already are. The only one coming off looking any good is Nicoletta Braschi (Princepessa herself), who positively glows as the Blue Fairy.
I will make an effort to see the movie in Italian when it comes out on DVD, because I deem it unfair to judge a film that has been tampered with. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will help. It pains me to do it, but as it stands, I give Pinocchio an F.