Pinocchio: Four Versions, Three Worth Watching

You can now watch four version of Pinocchio, two of which are on Disney+, one on Netflix and one on Amazon Prime Video. While one can be easily skipped, the other three are whimsical tales for different audiences. 

The Oscars buzz for Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” is well deserved, but there are two others also worth watching. 


Carlo Lorenzini (1826-1890) wrote “The Adventures of Pinocchio” under the pen name of Carlo Collodi in 1883. The basic story is about a poor man, Geppetto,  who acquires a magic piece of wood and makes it into a puppet, Pinocchio. That puppet comes to life and has misadventures when he fails to follow his father’s orders. First he goes to a puppet show instead of school even though his father sold his own coat to buy a school book. A pair of questionable characters trick him out of money. Eventually, he and a friend named Candlewick end up at a place where kids are encouraged to be bad, but the kids then are turned into donkeys and sold. From there, he ends up swallowed by a huge dogfish and is reunited with Geppetto. To save Geppetto, he works hard, but his transformation into a real boy comes when he sacrifices he desires for someone else. 

The book came out when Italy had only recently been unified (1861) as the Kingdom of Italy. But some states did not join this Kingdom of Italy until after the Papal States and Rome were annexed in September 1870. Rome became the capital in 1871.  

One aspect of the time period, was not only the unification of kingdoms and states, but also the Industrial Revolution. That meant people were leaving the rural areas in search of jobs at factories. Leaving home and one’s trusted friends and allies, can lead to a lot of misadventures with assorted shady characters. 

Disney Animated Version (1940)⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This Disney version is filled with fun moments and examples of animation innovation. It remains a story for the whole family. 

Narrated by Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), we meet the elderly Geppetto (Christian Rub), who makes clocks and toys from wood. He creates a marionette that he names Pinocchio. Before he falls asleep, he wishes on a star that Pinocchio would become a real boy. Hearing his with, the Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) visits Geppetto’s shop and magically brings Pinocchio to life. She tells him that if he is brave, truthful and unselfish, he will become a real boy. The Blue Fairy appoints Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio’s conscience. 

Geppetto is overjoyed to discover Pinocchio is now alive. The next morning, Geppetto sends Pinocchio to school, but Pinocchio is accosted by Honest John (Walter Catlett) and Gideon the Cat. They get him to attend the Stromboli’s puppet show where he becomes a star attraction because he has no strings. Stromboli (Charles Judels) won’t allow him to go home, but the Blue Fairy appears to save him. Pinocchio will again be fooled by Honest John and Gideon the Cat. His disappearance will cause Geppetto to leave his shop in search of him. 

Pinocchio will face temptation and the effects of magic at Pleasure Island, he’ll lie and his nose will grow too long. He’ll get donkey ears and will be swallowed by a sperm whale called Monstro. He will learn to be brave, honest and truthful and the meaning of love. 

Geppetto smokes a pipe and has a gun, as one might expect for that time period, yet smoking and drinking are shown to be evils or vices that young boys should avoid (as well as telling lies). The message here is to obey your parents, go to school and be brave, honest and generous. 

The film had two supervising directors (Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske) and five sequence directors (Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson and T. Hee) and together they came up with a joyful, innovative classic. On Disney+. 

Pinocchio (2019, Italian with English subtitles) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Pinocchio is an Italian icon and it’s worth seeing this 2019 David di Donatello Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated fantasy film that was directed and co-written (with Massimo Ceccherini) by Matteo Garrone. This is Oscar-winning Roberto Benigni’s second outing in a Pinocchio project. Previously, he played Pinocchio. Here he is the impoverished, elderly Geppetto, a woodworker who receives an enchanted piece of wood. From the wood, he carves a marionette, Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi with beautiful prosthetic makeup instead of CGI). 

This film really emphasizes Geppetto’s poverty. He sells his coat in order to get Pinocchio his school book, but Pinocchio doesn’t make it to school because he attends the puppet theater instead. The puppet theater owner is at first angered at Pinocchio, but when Pinocchio begs to return to this father, and does something selfless, the owner, Mangiafuoco (Gigi Proietti), releases him and gives him five gold coins. 

The Fox (Massimo Ceccherini) and Cat prey upon Pinocchio, but he is rescued by the Fairy with Turquoise Hair (Marine Vacth). He does lie, but the fairy shortens his nose after giving him a warning. This Pinocchio will face the Fox and Cat again. He’s go to the wrong place and will have donkey ears and end up inside a giant fish, but this is a lovely interpretation that chooses to look at different aspects of the original tale. He’ll learn to be a good son and to watch out for con artists. There is a talking cricket (Davide Marotta), but this role is less critical than in the Disney film. 

This live-action film might be best for older kids. It’s meant for both kids and adults. If you’re not going to read the source material, you can still see how other people have taken this tale to heart. Under the sensitive direction of Garrone, the characters seem as if they could be real and this is much more intriguing than the 2022 Disney Live-Action “Pinocchio” that stars Tom Hanks. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video. 

NB: A donkey dies. After my Kirisame’s death, this made me cry. 

Pinocchio (2022, Disney Live-Action)⭐️⭐️

The live-action version has Tom Hanks, and Cynthia Erivo as the Blue Fairy, but it has little reason to exist. We won’t see the Blue Fairy after she gives life to Pinocchio. I spent most of my time distracted from Erivo’s singing as I wondered why her wings had feathers that seem to swim in the air like short, soft tentacles. This Geppetto mourns the loss of a child celebrates when his wooden marionette comes to live. Jiminy Cricket is still there as is that schtick about the curvaceous figurine. The figurine segment seems overlong as does the gazing at the pile of feces on the road. The feces plays into Pinocchio’s first encounter with Honest John. 

But this Pinocchio is kicked out of school, because they only accept real boys, but smoking isn’t seen in different forms of acceptability. On Pleasure Island, the vices are not drinking alcohol or smoking. While this mostly follows the Disney animated story, the ending is changed.  

Although the sentiments toward drinking and smoking have changed, this film attempts either to be non-judgmental or to pretend such vices do not exist. No one smokes or drinks in this film. This Geppetto doesn’t have a gun either. I think we can all agree that kids should not smoke or drink alcohol and that doing so, instead of attending school is bad, but that’s not the message here.

One improvement is that Monstro is no longer a sperm whale; it is a monster.

Director Robert Zemeckis may be Italian American by way of his mother, but as director and co-writer (with Chris Weitz) of this live-action version, he is too indulgent and sometimes signals moments of tributes with the subtlety of a charging rhino. While Erivo gives a powerful rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” her fairy wings seem more like tendrils of a sea anemone than the feathers of a flying creature and her Blue Fairy has a limited presence. She’s sorely missed and without the Blue Fairy, there’s little female presence of significance. 

Both kids and adults will likely find this tedious and the CGI doesn’t add any sense of wonder. On Disney+. 

Pinocchio (2022, Guillermo del Toro Stop-Motion ) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have a great love for stop-motion animation. Guillermo del Toro has taken the Pinocchio story that you can readily recognize in the Disney versions and the original Italian version and brought it into the 1920s and 1930s for commentary on fascism.

The story begins at the end of  World War I (1914-1918) when the carpenter and woodworker, Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) takes his son, Carlo (Gregory Mann), to a small village church as Geppetto works to finish a sculpture of the crucified Jesus Christ. Carlo has just collected a perfect pinecone and when a bomb falls from an airplane on to the church, Geppetto survives, but the pinecone is all that is left of his son. 

Geppetto tends to his son’s grave under a pine tree where a traveling cricket, Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), and the narrator, has settled. (We never learn what happened to Carlo’s mother and there is no gravestone for her.) The grief-stricken Geppetto chops down that very tree, displacing Sebastian, but creating  a wooden boy (also delightfully voiced by Mann). The Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) brings the puppet to life and gives the complaining displaced Sebastian the tasks of being his conscience. If Sebastian performs his task well, the sprite will grant Sebastian any wish he pleases and Sebastian is a writer hoping, like any writer, to write a well loved work.

Geppetto is at first terrified at this little wooden boy who is barely more than wood crudely shaped into a literal stick figure. Del Toro’s Pinocchio does not have a smooth face that is painted to look like a real boy would look like in an animated cartoon. You can still see the pattern of the wood and Mann gives him a high, clear voice that shines with innocence. But all of the chaos and damage Pinocchio causes is due to his inability to separate good behavior from bad behavior and that makes what comes next even harder. Sent to school, Pinocchio runs into the calculating Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) and his monkey assistant Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett) and they convince Pinocchio to join their circus. Geppetto attempts to take Pinocchio back, but Pinocchio dies, only to meet the Wood Sprite’s sister, Death (also Swinton), and learn that since he is not alive, he cannot die. He will return to the world when the sands of the hourglass empty out. Each time he “dies,” Pinocchio will have to spend more time in the limbo station of the afterlife where Death is attended by black rabbits playing poker. 

Returning to the world of mortals, Pinocchio decides he will earn money for his father by performing in the circus. This way, he can also avoid joining the army. The Podesta feels an indestructible soldier would be valuable to the Italian Army. Italy is blinded by nationalism under Benito Mussolini and militarism is on the rise. However, when Pinocchio learns that Volpe hasn’t been sending his father money, he decides to insult Mussolini, who will be in attendance at the next performance.

Out of the Circus, Pinocchio joins Podesta (Ron Perlman) and his son, Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard), at a military boot camp for boys. Although Candlewick and Pinocchio become friends when originally Candlewick bullied him, they are separated by Candlewick’s father, the Podesta. 

There will be a giant dogfish (instead of a whale), and Pinocchio will have a reunion with Sebastian and Geppetto, but Pinocchio will learn what is important and this differs slightly from both the original story and the Disney animated version. 

The original Pinocchio story might have served to warn people about the dangers of con men in the cities as the country was rapidly industrializing and the story was influenced by the only recently dismantled aristocracy in that it emphasized the need for a son to be obedient to the father and the morality of the times.Guillermo del Toro’s tale also looks at the relationship between fathers and sons, between Geppetto and Pinocchio, between Podesta and Candlewick and even between Mussolini and his followers. But in his “Pinocchio,” del Toro finds it is important to resist and to be disobedient. The morality of the day may not be an eternal constant. Del Toro has updated Pinocchio to 2023, looking back at another difficult time in history. Instead of the period of industrialization, his gaze is on the journey toward World War II. Yet consider that first Disney “Pinocchio” came out in 1940. Europe was already at war with Germany and Italy allied. The US wouldn’t join the war until 1941, after the 7 December bombing of Pearl Harbor.  

There were Jews in Italy and there were people who resisted the fascism of both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Germany, Italy and the countries they invaded. The original fairy tales as well as Pinocchio had a darkness that has often been stripped away, but del Toro embraces the horrors and expands them. Even the fairies are a bit frightful, but that’s softened somewhat by using stop-motion animation. 

Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” is an intelligent socio-political tale about the past as we understand it in the present. The stop-motion animation has a charm that breaks the spell of the Disney film and reminds us that crickets and little boys sing and death is both strange and yet must be confronted. Stay for the end credits because Ewan McGregor ‘s lovely voice is showcased there.  Streaming on Netflix. 

One story can inspire different versions that can be magical and wise in their own ways. I recommend all the versions except the 2022 Disney live-action. 

Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and screened at AFI FEST and Animation Is Film in Los Angeles. GDT’s “Pinocchio” won the Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes, making del Toro the first Latino to win in that Golden Globe category and the film, the first film from a streaming service to win. 




Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.