Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Calimero Connection

I never met a wooden boy I didn't like.

The idea of a person forged from natural ingredients has always interested me.

There have been many interpretations of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio (1882) over the last 100+ years.

Disney took a shot at him, but they played down the darker, tragic aspects of the tale.

In '02, director/actor Roberto Benigni attempted to crack the Pinocchio code, too. He didn't shy away from the darkness, but he made the suicidal mistake of casting himself as the wooden boy.

His monstrously miscalculated decision rendered the film a wretched disaster that insulted the ghost of Collodi.

In '88, artist Roberto Innocenti, working from a '74 translation of the original Collodi text by E. Harden, achieved greatness with his visualization of the wooden boy's incredible journey.

It captured the essence of Pinocchio, a tale of a young boy's search for identity and decency in others.

Benigni played the boy as a part time buffoon, but there is no buffoonery to be found in Collodi's creation.

Give me a fuckin' break!
The tragedy and melancholy in Pinocchio... balanced by its celebration of courage and individuality.

Ironically, the only other character, to my mind, who has shared a journey akin to Pinocchio's is Calimero, also the creation of Italians.

In '72, a Japanese production company adapted the character for animation, and one of the saddest, most moving pieces of television ever made was created. It ran for two years.

When I first saw it in '73, I was hypnotized by its unbelievable atmosphere of tragedy and hopelessness.

In each episode, poor little Calimero would get taken advantage of by people he trusted.

He would cry: "It's an injustice, it is," and the curtain would come down on another episode.

The seed of Calimero is Pinocchio.

This 1st edition of The Adventures of Pinocchio, with art by Roberto Innocenti, was published by Jonathan Cape, Ltd. in the UK.


  1. I am moved by your piece; I too am touched and saddened by the plight of the 'artificial' boy; give me an artificial boy over a 'real' one any day...

    Perhaps Benigni failed not because he did not 'get' the pathos of the source material, but could not bear to immerse himself in it.

    I wonder; would we empathise with the 'wooden' boy if we had a choice? It's a cruel world, and 'Pinocchio' is a response to that, a preparation of children for it, and some comfort, solace, and the occasional strategem for dealing with it.

    I was especially moved by the figure of 'P' hanging from a tree. Am I correct in surmising he would rather 'leave early' than deal with the world as it is? One too many betrayals? If so, this is understandable.

    One could try to change the world; but JFK and Dr. King showed us what happens when you REALLY try to do this. When 'Born To Be Mild', and 'Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death' are the only choices, one might well choose the 'dangling from a tree' option.

    I truly believe there have been some other worthy contemprary 'stabs' at the pathos and mythos, (and I know they crossed your mind- I respectfully submit them as 'addendum' to your beautiful piece, and not 'erratum'...) and they would be 'Edward Scissorhands', 'AI', and to a much lesser extent, 'Bicentennial Man'.

    The first two made me cry. 'Make' me cry. I think a lot of people connect especially with 'Edward'- and much of that has to do with the beautiful script, and Johnny Depp. One has to address the human condition in this way-using the 'fable' as camouflage- one dare not come out and say 'the world is not supposed to be this way', and 'I am at odds with this world and I simply don't fit'...a la 'Frankenstein'- saying it in metaphor is fine but to say it literally is considered pathetic. Like in 'P', we have to use fable, because to speak our truth, really tell it like it is...I don't think the world is- will bever be- ready for such plain speaking.

    The 'truth', as we have already discussed.

    Oh, and 'AI'??

    Every time I see the trashed robots, I cry. EVERY time. I think it is extremely telling this movie did not find much of an audience. It is almost TOO much. I have heard it said the 'tacked on' ending- the final twenty or so minutes- capsizes the film, but I disagree. I hover on the verge of sadness and empathy for most of the film, and by the end, I am weeping like a child.

    Every time.

    What genius.

    At the end of 'Shadowlands', when the little boy says 'I miss Mum', and Hopkins replies 'Me too...' and they weep, so do I.

    There are few things sadder than (in order of importance) true love lost forever, and that moment when a child's innocence is wrenched from his soul like an unwanted foetus torn caesarian style from the womb.

    Do you wonder, as I do, whether a small part of us spends the rest of our life wandering the planet, looking to restore some 'semblance' of that lost innocence?

  2. Great piece, mandingo.

    I was being very literal about not finding many parallels with Pinocchio, but your raising 'Edward' and 'AI' is totally appropriate.

    I react very emotionally to the discarded robots of 'AI', too, almost as emotionally as I do at the end of the flawed 'Heartbeeps' when the Kaufman/Peeters robots abandon their robot baby. With the John Williams score at its zenith, this is one of my cinematic nadirs.

    Unfortunately, the film is spoilt by the presence of the wise-cracking "Crimebuster" character. So much of it is misguided, but there are some supreme moments (I must do a separate post on it).

    I think we do wonder the planet looking to restore some semblance of lost innocence.

    Good point about the world never being ready for such "plain speaking". Yes, a very good reason for the existence of fables.

    A fable is less easily dismissed than plain speaking because it seduces before delivering its message.

    All very well said, mandingo, as usual.