Welcome to the finale of Elsewolds Month 2!
Universe 1183: Mr. Coat (Character Profile: Pinocchio)
There are certain stories that tend to get retold a lot. These are usually public dominion stories and characters that people are free to use as much as they like. When new versions get released, you’ll usually see comments along the lines of “Really, another one of these?”. While I understand that, there is a reason some of these still live on today.
One of those is Pinocchio. When Carlo Collodi published The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1884, I don’t think he knew the impact his story of a puppet longing to be a real boy would have over the years. With last year having 3 distinct adaptations of the story, I figured now is a good time to look back and where it started and see how the character and story has evolved over time.
The story was originally serialized in a children’s magazine as The Story of a Puppet in 1881 before being published as a book in 1883. The general structure we’re familiar with is there but there are a of weird little things that tend to be omitted. The nature of how it was published is why it has an episodic structure and the original story goes further with it with all the detours it takes. At this point most know of certain things that are different here, like how the conscience cricket, who is not named here is killed off.
But sometimes not enough bring up how Pinocchio is carved from a talking log. Yes, he’s already somewhat alive even before being made with no real explanation. I know this is basically a fairy tale that doesn’t run on logic but I prefer how the adaptations do it. There’s a part where he is thrown in jail by a gorilla judge. I know there’s already anthropomorphic animals in here but that still caught me off guard.
We’d be here all day if I just recapped everywhere but that’s just a taste of the weird bits in here. Much has been talked about in regard to how much darker the original story is, with moments like Pinocchio’s feet being burned and the aforementioned killing of the cricket. It certainly tries to push how harsh this world is, especially with how Pinocchio gets punished to teach him a lesson.
I do enjoy some of these moments in a darkly funny kind of way. It does get repetitive due to the nature of the structure. He actually originally dies in chapter 15 and the story was going to end there, but at the suggestion of his editors, the story continued with the fairy bringing him back to life. Pinocchio himself is more of a brat here, with him learning the lesson a lot before it finally sinks in at the end. I suppose it fits to have him start off acting badly to drive the moral home but I do prefer when the character is more of a nice kid who just gets tempted easily.
The story has been criticized for its “scared straight” approach to teaching the lesson and yeah, it’s a bit much with just how harshly he’s punished for sometimes small crimes. But even with that, it’s certainly fun with everything packed into it and it’s easy to see why it took off like it did. Collodi actually planned to do a sequel where it turns out the ending was all just a dream and he’s still a puppet but he died before it could be finished. One wonders how that would have turned out.
Of course, even given that, we still ended up getting plenty more Pinocchio stories once it became a goldmine for adaptations. Many, many adaptations. We don’t have time to go over every version, so I’ll just hit up some of the more notable ones that I’ve seen. I’m also sticking to more straightforward takes rather than ones merely inspired by it, as much as I may like them. So no “AI: Artificial Intelligence”, sorry.
The first film version was a silent film released in 1911, with Ferdinand Guillaume being the first to portray the character on-screen. It’s an…odd one to say the least. It has some of the basics, but otherwise is a far more wacky take. From the start, it’s a lot of chaos, being somewhat close to the more out there nature of the book even with the changes it makes. I can’t exactly call it good but I somewhat enjoyed it for how baffling it was at times.
Of course, the most famous adaptation is the 1940 Disney Classic. It’s become the definitive version and a lot of future adaptations are likely more inspired by it than the book due to its place in pop culture. Being more family friendly and quite good helps a lot. It was lightened up but they still managed to be scary with that donkey scene.
The main story remained intact and the characters are well portrayed in their own ways, from the wooden boy himself to the fun villains. It does a good job of streamlining the story and it doesn’t suffer too much from being toned down. This is the Pinocchio that most are molded after, with him mostly being a nice boy who falls prey to the influence of others which as I said I do tend to prefer. It was actually a bomb at the time, due to World II cutting off overseas profits. It of course eventually did well over many re-releases and became a beloved classic.
But now it’s time to jump into the other versions. A classic example of strange Pinocchio movies we can get is the Belgian animated film Pinocchio in Outer Space, released in 1965. This is a sequel to the story where the wooden boy has become a puppet again because he has relapsed into being a bad kid. Then an alien turtle who looks more like a parrot and is voiced by Arnold Stang, the voice of Top Cat, shows up and takes him to Mars to stop a space whale.
It’s a…surreal experience to say the least. It’s not really all that bad, the animation and overall aesthetic is pretty decent for the time and it’s certainly never boring. It’s light on plot as it’s mostly just them running around on Mars and Pinocchio relapsing makes it hard to say about any development he goes through here. But the interactions are kinda fun with some of the turtle’s lines. It’s no Disney but for what it is, it’s not the worst way you can spend an hour.
One interesting case is Filmation’s Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, from 1987. It was part of their attempt to make sequels to Disney movies by falling back on the original stories being public domain. Disney tried and failed to stamp them out but they flopped so it didn’t matter anyway. There’s sadly no space turtles, and instead it has the boy going up against an emperor of the night.
There’s a few fun moments regarding the emperor and the animation is mostly decent for Filmation standards. But a lot of it feels like a retread, with Pinchio falling to temptation over and over again. There’s an attempt at a message about freedom which is interesting but feels like more of the same themes of the original in execution. There’s also some forgettable song in there and a couple annoying sidekicks like a monkey voiced by Frank Welker who is no Abu.
It’s mostly harmless and watchable but didn’t hold my attention that much. One that is nostalgic for some is the 1996 movie The Adventures of Pinocchio, starring Johnathan Taylor Thomas. Director Steve Bannon conceived of it earlier as a project with Jim Henson and pitched it to Disney who turned it down. Disney turning down a chance to make a live action version of a story they previously made an animated version of is hard to believe these days but there you go.
When it did finally get made, it bombed at the box office and was poorly received. As for me, it was somewhat mixed. It’s well made, even if the CGI can look off putting, especially on the cricket. The score by Rachel Portman is good and does help sell the emotional moments. They stick a bit closer to the book while still making changes such as combining the human villains into just one, with Udo Keir being suitably creepy.
It is an admirable attempt to add their own spin to some parts, while trying to keep the heart of the story. But as it goes on, it stays more to the basics of the plot and gets less interesting. There are some neat moments but the 3rd act does get more standard. There is a genuine effort here so I didn’t mind it too much, but it doesn’t fully work as a whole.
Despite the box office, it did get a direct to video sequel in 1999, so there’s that at least. Before we jump ahead further, there are plenty of other notable Pinocchio appearances that deserve a mention. There was a 1953 radio adaptation with Mel Blanc, various other animated films from other countries, a Sci-Fi take called Pinocchio 3000 in 2004, and a horror film named Pinocchio’s Revenge. Because it’s not a public domain property without a horror version.
An infamous one is the Roberto Benigni directed movie from 2002, mostly due to a panned English dubbed. Thankfully he got to be a better received take in 2019 where he played Gepotto. It even received two Oscar nominations for Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling. Disney has a book in their Twisted Tale young adult series that focuses on the backstory of the Blue Fairy, because that’s something people wanted to know?
Pinocchio is naturally one of the fairy tale characters used in the Shrek series, voiced by DreamWorks artist Cody Cameron. He provided some laughs, and even got one of the funnier scenes in Shrek the Third where he tries to word things in such a way as not to lie. His appearance in the special Scared Shrekless involves him in an Exorcist parody where he plays the Regan role. I had to mention it because I kind of love that concept.
On the TV side, there was a 2000 TV movie focusing on Geppetto, as played by Drew Carey. I thought it was a promising idea but it was dragged by Geppetto not being terribly interesting or even all that likable for most of it. There was a live musical in 1957 with Mickey Rooney as title character, an anime series in 1972, and a 1960 stop motion series by Rankin/Bass. The rabbit hole goes deep, trust me.
There’s an episode of LazyTown where Robbie Rotten brings the character to life to make him lie to the kids. He sees the boy as the ultimate liar, even after Stephanie tells him his nose grows as a tell. It honestly wasn’t the strongest episode.
To close us out, we have the year 2022 which, as mentioned before, gave 3 Pinocchio movies. There was the live action Disney remake, which got a bit of an unfair reception as while it is too beholden to the animated classic, it had its moments of trying some new things even if it didn’t work as a whole. There was Pinocchio: A True Story, infamous for the English dub with Pauley Shore giving an…interesting performance.
At least from what I see. Yeah, the version I watched was a different English dub with other actors. Once you get past the strange ideas and loose take on the story, it’s mostly just kind of dull. The drama didn’t land for me and the horse was annoying, but otherwise I’ve hardly thought about it since I watched it.
Last but not least was Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, also directed by Mark Gustafson. I’ve talked about it before but it’s worth going into again as it’s really interesting compared to a lot of versions. Del Toro has stated he felt the book encouraged blind obedience and wanted to counter that. Thus, the movie uses its setting of fascist Italy to comment on the dangers of this. It’s an interesting take on the story that understands the appeal of the story while doing its own thing with it.
With how these other adaptations tended to stick more closely to the general plot, it further shows how much this version stands out. Of course, this will hardly be the last version. Regardless of how you think about these, it is easy to see why the story has stuck around for so long. There’s something appealing about a lot of the ideas and characters present, which these do sometimes take advantage of.
Like a lot of these older stories, there is something there that leads to so many versions and there have been at least a few great takes alongside the standard ones. While the messaging in the original has its flaws, its story of a boy learning right and wrong to become a real boy is still a memorable one that has managed to survive through all these various versions.
No matter how many versions come out, there will always be something special about the character and the story.
Didn’t know how to end this one so that’s a good stopping point.
Mr. Coat belongs to Stefan Ellison
And that ends Elseworlds Month 2. This one was super tricky (I’ll talk more about it come the 2023 retrospective) and I’m still totally sure about it but hope you enjoyed it anyway. Next time it’s back to just boring old me.