In Brief: Pinocchio

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.

The Takeaway

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?



Worth Seeing (a review with SPOILERS and asterisks)

Warning: SPOILERS ]

My name is Bob. I am 36 years old (for a few more days). I am a Star Wars fan, but not a fanatic. In other words, I don’t wear costumes, but I’ll tune in for anything originating in a galaxy far, far away. After a childhood watching the movies and playing with the toys, I waited in line to watch the prequels. I was excited to see something new. And like so many others, I grew to loathe the prequels for their many obvious faults, though I still remember how giddy I was at my first view of Yoda wielding a light saber.

A childhood of Star Wars ups tempered by an adolescence of Star Wars downs meant that I went to the movies on Thursday night with a hint of hesitation. I can’t imagine the weight on the shoulders of JJ Abrams at having to pick up the torch that had been reduced to embers. But I can say, with certainty, that I liked* the new movie. Sorry, I bumped the asterisk key there, let’s try that again:

I liked* the movie.

I enjoyed* the movie?

It’s a good* movie.

I’m pretty sure I smiled through the whole thing. It felt like I was home again, like a piece of my childhood had been returned to me. Of course, the most likely reason is that I had just watched Episode IVVVI.

In a bit of unexpected episodic math, The Force Awakens is proof that 7=4+5+6

The film was derivative. Entirely void of an original thought.

Yet it was perfect.

If you saw the film (and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you have), you know this to be true.

Young hero finds droid with information critical to the rebellion (whoops, I mean resistance). And with the help of a wily old veteran who doesn’t survive the film, returns the droid to Leia, who then sends out a squadron of fighters to take on the oversized battle station, the home of the empire (whoops, I mean First Order), which has but a single identified weakness. Along the way, there is a startling revelation of a father/son relationship. Before the attack on the station can be successful, a smuggler (Han was filling multiple roles en route to a huge payday) and his Wookiee friend have to set charges on the shield generator to allow the attack to be successful… the villain is a conflicted and troubled mess who answers to a hologram… it’s all in there, plus a hundred more. Personally, I was just happy to see the return of some decent intergalactic bar music.

But I’ll say it again, it was perfect.

JJ Abrams had a nearly impossible task – restoring faith in a franchise that was mismanaged and exploited. I wouldn’t want that job. I had my own notions of what I wanted the plot to include. The world can rejoice that my ideas won’t see the light of day. Never in my life would I have thought to repackage a movie that had already been made, supplementing it with key elements of two other movies that had already been made, and presented it as something new. But I believe it’s exactly what needed to be done.

To borrow a phrase I saw in another review, The Force Awakens is a greatest hits album. And a good one at that.

But the film’s greatest strength – it’s complete lack of original thought – is also it’s greatest weakness and the cause of my heart’s hesitation.

I’ll say it one more time before I’m completely accused of being a killjoy – I smiled the whole time. This film was perfect, exactly what it needed to be. Every moment served to awaken the childhood excitement of fans and fanatics, all while introducing a new generation to a classic story.  I loved almost every bit of the casting (even the CGI Snoke has Gollum at the helm). I loved the fact that it didn’t look like I was watching a cartoon. I loved the music. I think they held the shot on Luke for about 5 seconds too long at the end, but that’s to be expected… I mean, it’s LUKE!? Smiles, smiles, and more smiles.

But because it is the first of three, I have to ask: What happens next? 

Will this trilogy consist only in borrowed thought?

That could work. Maybe in episode VIII we find out the surprise identity of Finn’s family while the new Jedi folk begin their training, and then in IX we find out the surprise identity of Rey’s family after she’s thawed from a block of carbonite. Maybe by IX they’ll have rebuilt the scary planet base thing and we’ll meet the long lost cousins of the Ewoks as Rey throws a lightning-happy Snoke into a pit, leading up to Kylo Ren’s funeral pyre. Maybe. I’ll still buy a ticket. And I’ll probably smile the whole time.

My greateset fear going into Episode VII was the expected lack of authentic storytelling. That fear has simply been pushed back one movie, hence my current inner turmoil.

Despite my fears, I am thankful to JJ Abrams for The Force Awakens. I am thankful because, for just one night, I was able to put aside the awful prequels and enjoy a stunning vision of an old galaxy far, far away.