Sunday, February 24, 2013

Horrible Non-Horror! Pinocchio

I'm in a bit of a bind here, and it's a sad, sad place to be. Ever since I spent a chilly December night watching a chirpy voiced CGI nutcracker battle John Turturo dressed as a cross between Andy Warhol and an SS officer, in a world where big songs ended with a shark being electrocuted and Nathan Lane sang a song about the theory of relativity (because he was playing Albert Einstein).

Yes, you might say The Nutcracker In 3D kind of ruined me from ever experiencing anything as batship insane again.

Still, the Oscar winner's big budget Italian production (with a chunk of that change going to paying big-name salaries for the English dubbing) was so infamous a flop that it just had to land here in February's Salute Your Shorties, even though part of the film's biggest problem is that the title character is actually a full-grown man of average height.

Quick Plot: In a world where animals speak and children look like grownups but grownups act like children--

Yes, I'm already lost right there with you. Why do children look like grownups? Well obviously, because Roberto Benigni is hellbent on pulling a Paul Reubens and decided to give his audience a disclaimer in terms of its logistics within the universe. No, it doesn't make sense, nor does the etherealish conversation between an old man and the Blue Fairy about how, and I quote, "time doesn't exist, but now it's time to go since it's getting late." 

But...but...if time doesn't exist, how can you run out of it?

I need Nathan Lane in here with a physics lesson, stat!

Anyway, prologue aside, one day in this magical land built on a soundstage, a magical butterfly tips over a magical log and a magical carpenter makes a magical boy out of it.


The only problem is that the boy is, to be frank, an asshole. I'd use harsher words, but I'm a lady, even if my cat toys say otherwise.

Available made-to-order here!

But he's just a kid! A MAGICAL kid, you say in Pinocchio's defense. Allow me then to describe this MAGICAL KID's first course of action upon animation: 

-Pinocchio trashes his kind but poor father's workshop, doing his best to break everything in sight
-Pinocchio runs to the streets to knock over fruit and vegetable peddlers' crates of goods
-Pinocchio steals the cane from a crippled old man
-Pinocchio uses the cane he stole from a crippled old man to chase a cat

-Pinocchio picks up the lids of garbage pails and clangs them together loudly
-Pinocchio tears down a clothes line
-Pinocchio scares a horse

-Pinocchio shakes a tree full of birds
-Pinocchio destroys a carton of wine. OF WINE

-Pinocchio shoots JFK

Fine, I'll admit I made up the last one, but I'm sure that was next on his list. My point is that Begnini's Pinocchio is a worthless, mean, destructive character who seems to try his hardest to make the audience wish for his death, only to then have the film tease us time and time again by putting him in scenario after scenario where he could and SHOULD die, then cruelly twisting the knife by giving him a second and third and ninetieth chance at a life he doesn't deserve.

I hated this thing.

Pinocchio has always been a tricky yet fascinating story because the very nature of its titular hero is to be naughty and make the wrong decisions. It's this boyish lack of compassion that sends the character down the rabbit hole of street crime, donkey transformations, and whale digestion, only to eventually overcome it all by learning to love and respect the father who had sacrificed so much for him. Yes, all that does indeed happen in Benigni's version, but does it have to be so insufferable?

Take, for example, Pinocchio s relationship with a talking cricket, voiced here by John Cleese. As soon as it starts talking, Pinocchio tries with all his might to crush the darn thing with his hands. In other words, Pinocchio TRIES TO MURDER THE CRICKET. That's bad, but you know what's worse? The fact that the Breckin Meyer voiced Pinocchio then asks Mr. Cleese "Has anyone ever told you your voice is REALLY annoying?"

At this point, what can a blogger do but sit back and sigh?

Pinocchio is a rather joyless film about a rather awful character, one who acknowledges that everything would be, and I quote, "a million times better if I were dead." And yet, SPOILER ALERT, he doesn't die. Not after he cons the Blue Fairy into giving him candy. Not after he ends up in prison and forms a weirdly homoerotic bond between a young lollipop fetishist. Not when he's dangled before a puppeteer giant with a hearty appetite for sort-of-puppet-boys. Not when he ends up in Funforeverland (seriously) and gets turned into a donkey later exploited at a circus by a ringmaster voiced by Regis Philbman.Now when he's thrown into the water to drown or forced into hard labor on a farm. He just...keeps...going.

This is a trying film, one that challenges its viewers--who in fairness, were supposed to be under the age of 10--to a game of endurance. I am one of those film nonsnobs who finds Life Is Beautiful a rather sweet and touching endeavor despite historiographical rewrites by contemporary society. I went into Pinocchio knowing that it had an ugly reputation, but not quite knowing why. 5 minutes into the film, that was cleared up.

There's something inherently sweet about how Benigni makes a film, always utilizing his wife and attacking his subject matter with his full heart. The problem with Pinocchio is that the film is nowhere near as charming as Benigni thinks it (or himself) is. The fantasy world is flat and ugly. The dialogue is rarely clever. Sure, the English dubbing feels (most likely) far more awkward and clunky than the original Italian, but that doesn't fix a script. Some sequences are too dark for kids, yet the entire tone feels shouted out as if aimed at a romper room. But what really dooms Pinocchio is Benigni himself, his natural innocence weirdly obscured by his decision to play a man-child. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING lovable (or likable, or mildly tolerable) about his Pinocchio  He's selfish, mean, uncaring, lying, and until the last 3 minutes of the film, simply a terrible human being. I don't know about you, but typically those kinds of characters do not endear me to their films.

High Points
I appreciate any film made in modern times that has the courage to go for something whimsical. Fantasies are not an easy sell, so just taking that chance is something

Low Points
Except when the something is Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio

Lessons Learned
The best way to get an unruly child to take his medicine is to call in creepy bunny children pallbearers

When giants get emotional, they tend to sneeze

Tangerine lollipops are the best

Randomly Creepy Scene If Left To Analysis
We all know that the Little Boy Playland (or Funforeverland, which I kind of want to visit on the name alone) is a trickster little village where young males are transformed into donkeys. What Pinocchio does, however, is include a beyond creepy sequence where a band of wealthy middle-age men come to tour its sale items, evaluating the sleeping boys mid-donkeyization with leering comments like “look at that pretty little muzzle!” and “this one looks built for hard labor.”

White slavery never looked so adorable.

Bad movie enthusiasts certainly owe it to themselves to tackle this Razzie darling. While the film is rather obnoxious, it's never really dull, meaning a masochist could certainly do worse things with his or her time. Netflix defaults to sending you the English language version, though the Italian original is also available. I doubt THAT disc includes the bonus feature where celebrities like Cheech Marin and Kevin James discuss the act of dubbing, so perhaps you want to choose wisely...especially for the brilliant cut of a baggy-eyed Breckin Meyer explaining how this was the hardest gig he'd ever had, immediately followed by John Cleese asserting how he essentially recorded his audio while doing his taxes because it was that easy. 

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