Disney’s Pinocchio is a masterpiece of children’s animation that is famous the world over. But, no surprise, the original story is darker and more nuanced than the Disney version. That stands to reason – after all, the whole idea of a puppet wanting to be a “real boy” and coming to life is at it’s base pretty creepy. Disney is also known for giving Grimm’s fairy tales the same treatment, to the point that the happy, sanitized versions are far better known than the originals.
But now several projects are underway that hope to bring a darker, more authentic version of the Pinocchio story to the screen. The filmmakers hope to capitalize on a similar approach to that taken by Tim Burton in his latest rendition of Alice in Wonderland, which turned out to be a huge hit.
Jereremy 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 remake, is reportedly working on another project.
The National Theatre production, which opens on 1 December, is being staged in partnership with Disney Theatrical 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 film, including I’ve Got No Strings.
The Adventures of Pinocchio was written 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.
I have no idea if any of these productions will be as successful as the Burton film, but I wish the producers luck. It’s about time that versions of these stories were widely released that retain the original tone and context, as opposed to sanitized animated versions made “safe” for small children. The original texts are not necessarily the fun, happy stories that they have generally been adapted into, and retaining and if necessary restoring the original content is important. Otherwise, much of it could be lost.