1 9 7 8 (UK)
4 x 30 minute episodes
This four-part series from the BBC Sunday Classics team was invariably going to draw comparisons with the 1940 Walt Disney movie, but this fresh adaptation was more grotesque – in keeping with the rather twisted premise of the original book.
The central story is familiar – the lonely Geppetto grieves so much for his dead son that his wish for another is answered by the Blue Fairy, although her magic only extends to the woods and forests so all she can do is make Geppetto’s carved puppet come to crudely-animated life.
Geppetto wants to love the boy, but Pinocchio often rewards his father with loud tantrums which the woodcarver patiently bears.
By turns innocent and gullible or thoughtless and selfish, the puppet tries to become a real boy but is all too easily led astray by the conmen Mr Cat and Mr Fox, and the temptations of the idle life.
The character of Pinocchio is a real puppet here, playing against a cast of actors, so the truly unnatural concept of a living puppet can never be forgotten (unlike in the animated Disney film).
The brilliantly played Mr Fox and Mr Cat appear whimsical enough, if cruel, but there are more disturbing predicaments for the wooden boy.
There is the antiquated psychedelia of the Land of Toys where Pinocchio and the lazy boys waste their days until they are turned into donkeys and a cruel circus act where the Ringmaster whips the wooden puppet donkey into ever more dangerous stunts.
The production is imaginatively realised through illustrated backdrops and models. Pinocchio himself is a simple crude rod puppet, sometimes operated by a puppeteer out of shot and sometimes superimposed using Colour Separation Overlay (CSO).
This is certainly the most creatively off-kilter production to have been made by the Sunday Classics Team and far more frightening than the bright and cheerful Disney animation.