Our literary quest through the homeschool year ended with a massive flourish as we enjoyed Carlo Lorenzini’s (better known as Collodi, his adopted surname which doubles as the name of his hometown) classic Pinocchio.
From a schooling perspective, our typical approach with any classic is to read the book, view the most popular version on film, and then write a reflection piece detailing the similarities, differences, and our personal preferences. In the case of Pinocchio, my children and I unanimously preferred the Collodi version.
My daughter preferred the suspense of the 1883 classic. My sons preferred the broader variety in the story and the detail with which Collodi brought the puppet and secondary characters to life. Personally, I preferred the depth of Pinocchio’s transformation which was utterly (and regrettably) absent in the mammoth Disney offering.
The Page vs. The Silver Screen
If there are complaints about the original tale of the beloved puppet, typically they revolve around his biting and nasty character, or the lethal peril which he faces after every increasingly disappointing decision. In all honesty, Pinocchio is as much the villain of the novel as any other. But it is the depth of the marionette’s depravity that makes his repentance all the more glorious.
The movie presents Pinocchio as the whimsical boy whose one bad decision leads to a series of unfortunate events. The viewer is led to sympathize with Pinocchio as a victim. His brokenness is shallow. So, then, is his eventual transformation into a real boy. What was the point of it all? I guess when you wish upon a star, your mild misadventure will end in all your dreams coming true?
Collodi’s Pinocchio makes repeated willfully disobedient decisions, each a slap in the face to those who have loved him most. He abuses the sacrificial gifts of his father who fashioned him from a talking piece of wood. He rejects the redemptive efforts of the blue fairy who repeatedly comes to his aid. At every turn, he laments his situation, pleading for help and half-heartedly feigning sadness. He loves complaining and being the recipient of the world’s pity. It’s easy to dislike Gepetto’s puppet.
Even when he turns completely into an ass (the most egregious omission from the movie), he doesn’t break. Even when he is then sold into the big top to perform tricks, he does not repent. Even when he’s lamed after failing at the tricks and sold to a trader who intends to kill him, skin him, and turn him into a drum, he’s not ready to change.
It’s only when that trader throws him into the sea with a millstone around his neck that the Pinocchio of the page changes. Critics of the book complain that Pinocchio so vividly describes the fifty-minute ordeal under the sea where fish consume his donkey flesh, leaving only the wooden skeleton behind. But it is this death that leads to Pinocchio’s true repentance.
Upon being pulled from the sea by the man (who then realized he wasn’t getting his drum!), Pinocchio repents. He changes. He seeks after his father Gepetto who had been swallowed by a great fish while searching for his son. He cares for the ailing blue fairy, sacrificing every earthly penny to restore her to health.
And it is at the end of this journey that Pinocchio becomes a real boy.
Sometimes the best part of good news is first knowing the bad news. Where Disney, sadly, offers cheap grace and a couple of catchy songs, Collodi walked his main character through the valley of the shadow of death. My children and I both appreciated the depth of Collodi’s story, which only left us wanting more of the film.
More than a morality tale, Pinocchio tells the story of a living creature who was little more than dust, who was crafted into the image of his maker, destroyed his own conscience (yes, Collodi’s Pinocchio kills the cricket at the first suggestion that his actions were foolish), swallowed the most dastardly lies, and discarded the most valuable treasures, believing that his way would be more fruitful.
The real Pinocchio shows the consequence of foolishness as the main character chases fleeting pleasures and transforms fully into a donkey, just as it was promised he would.
The real Pinocchio shows that a cheap turn will not suffice. Talk is cheap if the heart remains darkened. Only the death of wicked selfishness can lead to the kind of change that would satisfy his heart’s greatest desire.
Pinocchio then shows the power of a transformed life as it radiates with true love, self-sacrifice, generosity, and joy.
Personally, I believe my children preferred Collodi’s story because it echoes the greatest story. Likewise, I think many dislike the original because it provides an all-too-familiar look into the depths of our own souls and makes clear that the road to true transformation comes through death to self.
The cost of becoming what we were created to be is quite severe. More than we would or could pay on our own. Am I allowed to say that Collodi’s Pinocchio made me praise my Savior?