Film-mak­ers race to re­claim the dark soul of Pinoc­chio from Walt Dis­ney

As di­rec­tor John Tif­fany recre­ates eates the Dis­ney magic at the Na­tional The­atre, three ri­val movies are looking g fur­ther back to the orig­i­nal macabre story

The Observer - - NEWS - by Dalya Al­berge

The wooden pup­pet whose dreams of be­com­ing a real boy have en­chanted gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren since he was cre­ated in 19th cen­tury Italy is burst­ing back to life this Christ­mas.

Al­most 80 years since Pinoc­chio, the toy whose nose grew when he lied, in­spired Walt Dis­ney’s cin­e­matic mas­ter­piece, at least three ma­jor movies are planned, and the Na­tional The­atre is pre­mier­ing a “spec­tac­u­lar” stag­ing in time for Christ­mas.

Jeremy Thomas, the Os­car-win­ning Bri­tish pro­ducer, is mak­ing a screen ver­sion with Mat­teo Gar­rone, the Ital­ian di­rec­tor of ac­claimed mob drama Go­mor­rah , while Robert Downey Jr is de­vel­op­ing a sep­a­rate project with Amer­i­can Beauty pro­ducer Dan Jinks. Guillermo del Toro, the Pan’s Labyrinth di­rec­tor, has also long been plan­ning his own am­bi­tious stop-mo­tion pro­duc­tion, re-imag­in­ing Pinoc­chio as an anti-fas­cist story. Al­though he an­nounced last week that he has so far been un­able to fi­nance it, he has been col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Jim Hen­son Com­pany, and is still hop­ing to make it hap­pen. Chris Weitz, who wrote Dis­ney’s Cin­derella make, is re­port­edly work­ing on an­other project.

The Na­tional The­atre pro­duc­tion, which opens on 1 De­cem­ber, is be­ing staged in part­ner­ship with Dis­ney The­atri­cal cal Pro­duc­tions and di­rec­tor John Tif­fany, whose stag­ing of Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child re­ceived a record num­ber of Olivier awards. It prom­ises to bring Pinoc­chio to life “as never be­fore”, and has made new ar­range­ments of the much-loved songs from Dis­ney’s orig­i­nal 1940 an­i­mated mated film, in­clud­ing I’ve Got No Strings.

The Ad­ven­tures of Pinoc­chio was writ­ten it by Carlo Loren­zini, un­der the pseu­do­nym Carlo Col­lodi. Se­ri­alised in a chil­dren’s mag­a­zine in 1881, it was pub­lished as a book in 1883. The ge­nius of Dis­ney’s an­i­ma­tion is a hard act to fol­low, but there have been many at­tempts to adapt the story for the screen, most re­cently, Roberto Benigni’s 2002 Pinoc­chio, which had mixed re­views.

In Jinks’s Pinoc­chio, Downey Jr will star as the fa­ther, Gep­petto. Asked why Pinoc­chio is now in­spir­ing so many pro­duc­tions, Jinks said: “The world changed when Tim Bur­ton di­rected Alice in Won­der­land seven years ago. It be­came one of the top-gross­ing pic­tures in his­tory [mak­ing more than $1bn] and so ev­ery­body looked at gi­ant ti­tles that were in the pub­lic do­main that could pos­si­bly be ex­ploited. That’s lit­er­ally what I did. I had been work­ing with [writer/pro­ducer] Bryan Fuller … I pitched him five ti­tles in the pub­lic do­main and one was Pinoc­chio. If I’m do­ing that, other peo­ple are. Now some of these things are com­ing closer to fruition.”

Bur­ton is a mas­ter of the macabre whose take on Lewis Car­roll’s clas­sic story reached an au­di­ence be­yond chil­dren. Pro­duc­ers now be­lieve that Pinoc­chio has sim­i­lar po­ten­tial.

Thomas’s pre­vi­ous films in­clude The Last Em­peror , Bernardo Ber­tolucci’s epic that won nine Os­cars. De­scrib­ing Pinoc­chio as “a time­less story”, he spoke off of re­turn­ing to Col­lodi’s orig­i­nal, “which is quite fright­en­ing”: “It’s noth­ing like the Dis­ney car­toon, which is a very sac­cha­rine ver­sion.” Gar­rone’s films in­clude Tale of Tales , which was in­spired by folk myths and de­scribed by one critic as “fab­u­lous”. In his Pinoc­chio pro­duc­tion notes, he ob­serves: “Bur­ton has proved many times that chil­dren ap­pre­ci­ate the dark and the mys­te­ri­ous much more than we give them credit for.”

He points out that the story of “the world’s most fa­mous pup­pet” tran­scends cul­tures, hav­ing been trans­lated into 240 lan­guages: “But the story has a dark soul. The book hides themes that have yet to be de­vel­oped. The voice of the dead lit­tle girl, black bun­nies, a nose that grows on its own, a boy mor­ph­ing into a don­key, are just some of the scenes that re­flect the an­cient oral tra­di­tions Col­lodi grew up with … I in­tend to stick close to Col­lodi’s pow­er­ful story.”

He has cast Toni Servillo, who starred in Paolo Sor­rentino’s Os­car-win­ning The Great Beauty , as Gep­petto, and a young girl, Al­ida Bal­dari Cal­abria, as Pinoc­chio.

Thomas said: “Mat­teo read with many chil­dren for the role, but he kept think­ing about Al­ida’s per­for­mance and knew she was right. He will re­alise Pinoc­chio with an ar­ti­sanal ap­proach, blend­ing pros­thet­ics, spe­cial makeup and CGI. Dig­i­tal ef­fects will be in­te­grated with the ac­tors’ makeup and lay­ered over fa­cial pros­thet­ics, mak­ing the char­ac­ters ap­pear ex­traor­di­nar­ily real – so it is not so im­por­tant whether Pinoc­chio is played by a boy or a girl.”

Gar­rone has wanted to film Pinoc­chio since he was child, when he drew his first story-board. Now part of his in­spi­ra­tion comes from some of Goya’s “grotesque and ac­cusatory en­grav­ings”. in Won­der­ful ini­tial in sketches give a hint of some of the crea­tures that will be brought to life by Nick Dud­man, the Os­car-nom­i­nated artist from the Harry Pot­ter films.

Peter Saunders off Mackin­non & Saunders, the lead­ing Bri­tish an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­ers and pup­pet-mak­ers, con­firmed mean­while that they have done “a fair deal” of de­vel­op­ment work for Del Toro’s pro­duc­tion and that the Jim Hen­son Com­pany has cre­ated “stag­ger­ing art­work”. While pay­ing trib­ute to Dis­ney’s orig­i­nal, he said: “Go back to the orig­i­nal story and it’s very moral­is­tic, dark and vi­o­lent in many as­pects ... It’s not like some­one’s done the de­fin­i­tive ver­sion.”

‘The story has a dark soul, and its themes re­flect the an­cient oral tra­di­tions that Col­lodi grew up with’ Mat­teo Gar­rone, di­rec­tor

All­star/Dis­ney, Pi­etro Scola Di Mam­bro

Dis­ney’s fa­mous an­i­mated ver­sion of Pinoc­chio with his con­science, Jiminy Cricket. Above: a char­ac­ter de­sign for Pinoc­chio in Mat­teo Gar­rone’s new film pro­duc­tion.

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