‘Pinocchio’ Review: An Enchanting Yet Befuddling Adaptation

This new cinematic imagining of Carlo Collodi’s classic fantasy tale is alternately enchanting and befuddling. Roberto Benigni plays the woodworker Geppetto — before you recoil at the prospect, let’s note that the frequently over-the-top actor is relatively restrained and appropriate throughout. At the movie’s opening, the character is in such dire straits that he finds fault with the furniture at his local osteria, offering to fix it in exchange for a meal.

Since this adaptation is directed by Matteo Garrone, who made a striking film of Roberto Saviano’s true-crime book “Gomorrah” in 2009, one might anticipate a “Pinocchio” with one foot in social realism. But when talking animals and fairies get into the mix, some varieties of verisimilitude are necessarily sidelined.

The fanciful creatures here underscore the movie’s problems. The physicians with bird heads who attend to the little wooden boy in one scene look like they stepped out of a Max Ernst collage, which is delightful. On the other hand, the tale’s talking cricket (no “Jiminy” here — this movie is loyal to Collodi, not Disney) resembles W.C. Fields, only green. Doesn’t work.

Pinocchio himself, played by the child actor Federico Ielapi with a prosthetic makeup assist, takes getting used to. Maybe decades of movies featuring evil ventriloquist dummies and stiffly demonic children have made the little wooden boy an inherently dubious character.

And in the script, by Garrone and Massimo Ceccherini, the character is vague, never quite bringing home the puppet’s desire to be a “real” boy. Geppetto is indistinct, too, at one point rhapsodizing about his ambition to build the “most beautiful puppet,” then rejoicing in the delivery of a “son” for which he’d never expressed any yearning. Once you’ve settled in with the characters, though, the movie presents some genuinely transportive sights and scenes, especially once the action shifts to the sea.

Not rated. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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