Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The other Pinocchio

Disney seems to have a proclivity for taking tragic or dark stories (even real ones!) and turning them into children's movies. Until recently, however, I didn't realize this tradition extends to Pinocchio, one of the all-time great films.

This came to my attention while listening to the April 27 New York Review of Books podcast discussion with Tim Parks about his review of the new English translation of the original book the film is based upon, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, translated by Geoffrey Brock.

To give you an immediate idea of the difference in tone between the original story and the Disney film: in the book Pinocchio actually kills the Talking Cricket character (the Disney analogue being Jiminy Cricket.)

The celebrated and sugary Disney film adaptation (1940), by which most people outside Italy have come to know Pinocchio's story, announces itself as an example of how, if sincerely desired, even the greatest of wishes can come true: a reassuring message. Nothing could be further from the acid spirit of Collodi's "Story of a Puppet." The question with a puppet is: Who will manipulate him? When the puppet turns out to have a stubborn and stupid will of his own, that question becomes: Whom will he allow himself to be manipulated by?

Having got Geppetto arrested, Pinocchio rushes home, only to experience a shock like the one he earlier gave the carpenter: a voice speaks from nowhere: "Cree, cree, cree." It is the Talking Cricket (Disney's Jiminy Cricket) who has "lived in this room for more than a hundred years." Revealing himself on the wall, the officious insect proceeds to give Pinocchio some hundred-year-old advice: "Woe to any little boy who rebels against his parents and turns his back on his father's house!" A surprisingly well-informed Pinocchio is having none of it: he's off, he declares,

because if I hang around the same thing that happens to all the other kids will happen to me, too: I'll be sent to school, and I'll be expected to study whether I like it or not....
When the cricket warns that this attitude can only lead to disaster, "Pinocchio jumped up in a rage, grabbed a wooden mallet from the workbench, and flung it at the Talking Cricket." Far from crooning his way through the puppet's many adventures with blue top hat, red umbrella, and yellow dancing shoes, the creature dies at once, splattered on the wall. It is typical of Collodi that while the rest of the book will show just how right the cricket was, the author nevertheless seems to take as much delight as any child in having this wearisome pedagogue obliterated with such panache. That said, he then has fun resurrecting the insect on two or three occasions to exchange insults with his killer.
The whole article, as well as the podcast, are quite interesting, as in addition to exploring the edgier and subversive approach to its moral message in Collodi's work they also examine how the original story is a product of the cultural and political environment of 1880's Italy.

1 comment:

Philip O'Mara said...

Great story.

Read a great new sporting comedy, entitled Classes Apart.
This is an adult sporting comedy that follows the fortunes of Paul Marriot, the secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. The team had previously been known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and they embark on an epic journey.