Directed by Matteo Garrone, this version of Pinocchio (2019) is nothing like the well-known 1940s Disney story about the wooden puppet that came to life. Both visually and story-wise, this new film accurately portrays the 1883 novel written by Carlo Collodi. The film rightfully earned two well-deserved Oscar nominations. One nomination was for “Best Makeup and Hairstyling,” and the other for and “Best Costume Design.” Let’s take a closer look at the wonderfully grotesque costume design by 2021 Oscar nominee Massimo Cantini Parrini.
The original novel by Carlo Collodi was published in 1883, as a series for Giornale per I Bambini (Italian for ‘Newspaper for children), with illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti. The historical period and illustrations were significant building blocks in the costume design for this film. As the costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini told the Below the Line:
“The next step in the creative process was to try to be faithful to the illustrations of the original classic novel, and we realized that no one had ever represented these original illustrations in any of the features that have been taken from the classic Pinocchio.”Below the Line
For Pinocchio’s character, there is a clear similarity in the silhouette compared to the original illustrations. In the book, Geppetto “made his son a little suit of flowered paper, a pair of shoes from the bark of a tree, and a tiny cap from a bit of dough.”
In this new iteration, Geppetto actually makes Pinocchio’s costume from a blanket. This gives an additional layer of narrative importance to this act, as he has to make so many sacrifices for Pinocchio right from the beginning. The most significant difference between Disney’s Geppetto and this newest interpretation is their social status. In Disney’s version, Geppetto is a well-situated, kind, old gentleman prepared for a son and wishes upon a star to get him. On the other hand, this newer Geppetto’s motivation with the puppet is completely different at first. He wants to create a puppet to tour the world and make money out of his wonderful creation. However, when he starts to hear the puppet’s heartbeat, he realizes he has created something much more valuable, a son.
Geppetto’s social situation is told masterfully through his costume. It stands out from the time period of the 1880s, dating back to the tailcoats of the 18th century. He must sell his coat and vest in a scene where he dates the items back more than a hundred years. Another notion with the color of the costume is that their faded look blends Geppetto in with the background. He is on the edge of society.
Unlike Gepetto’s color palette, Pinocchio’s red color is the heart of this film. He is the only bright spot throughout the movie. As Massimo Cantini Parrini told Below The Line:
“I really wanted that color because it made him like a little ladybug fluttering from one adventure to another, and also because in my opinion red is the costume of human feeling.”Below The line
A thoughtful detail from the Makeup and Special effects department is how Pinocchio’s face becomes more and more chipped throughout the film. Through tough experiences, like his leg burning off, then being chased and hanged, the challenges of becoming a real boy are reflected through these wooden lines.
Poverty affects Geppetto but has its stamp on the whole atmosphere of the film, making it feel more realistic. However, there are several fantastical elements to the movie, like the Cat and the Fox, whose apparels show a long-lost past of wealth. Hunger, dirt, and gluttony overshadow their once elaborate wool coats and ties.
We get to know the Fairy with Turquoise Hair more, which is a delightful surprise of the new film. Unlike Disney’s glamorous Hollywood star-like Blue Fairy, the ethereal creature we meet, Fairy, when she is only a child. However, she looks lifeless capturing a different kind of magic. Her shiny white skin and turquoise hair remind us of elaborate, porcelain Victorian dolls. Even her costume looks faded and lifeless like the dried flowers in her hair. When we meet her later as an adult, she is wearing the same outfit, as if time stopped for her.
Her nanny, the Snail, is one of the most visually striking characters in the film. A shawl and a bonnet decorate the silhouette of her gown, inspired by the 1800’s house dress. The mauve colors are faded by time with the slime, and the elaborate layers of crocheted fabrics give a grotesque yet comforting and oddly familiar. Every shot in Fairy’s home looks like a surrealist painting. From the mystical lights, the old cobweb-covered furniture with all the creatures that visit radiate nostalgic sadness.
When we compare the atmosphere of Pleasure Island, we can clearly see a difference. Garrone’s film stayed true to the horror of the Island in the original novel. Not the loud, colorful, and welcoming as portrayed in the Disney adaptation. But dry, colorless, dirty like reality was for many children in the 1880s in Italy. In Carl Ipsen’s book Italy in the Age of Pinocchio writes:
“The unnamed man who transports Pinocchio and his friend Lucignolo to the mythical land without schools, books, or teachers, for example, resembles those infamous agents (…) who signed up children in southern Italy and then transported them abroad, either for working in the sort of wandering trades (…) or else in foreign factories.”
This dark historical parallel, and the unfortunate fate that Pinocchio and his friend must face in the hands of greedy grownups makes this tale even darker.
This Pinocchio is a poetic, grotesque tale told through the aged layers of masterfully made costumes. I only highlighted my favorites in this article, but Cantini Parrini created more than 60 amazing looks for the production. Honoring his achievement, there was an exhibition in the Prato, Textile Museum – from 21 December 2019 to 22 March 2020. I hope after the Oscars when museums open again, there will be a chance to see these amazing creations, wonderful sketches, and the collection of historical garments that created Pinocchio.
Pinocchio is available to rent or purchase on Amazon, YouTube. A catalog of the exhibition can also be purchased through this link.
“Contender Profile: Costume Designer Massimo Cantini Parrini on Pinocchio.” Below the Line, 15 Apr. 2021, http://www.btlnews.com/crafts/costume-design/pinocchio-costumes-cantini-parrini/.
“From the Big Screen to the Museum: Massimo Cantini Parrini’s Costumes for ‘Pinocchio’ by Matteo Garrone @ The Textile Museum, Prato, Italy.” Irenebrination, http://www.irenebrination.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2019/12/pinocchio-costumes-prato.html.
Ipsen, Carl. “Italy in the Age of Pinocchio: Children and Danger in the Liberal Era.” Amazon, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, http://www.amazon.com/Italy-Age-Pinocchio-Children-American/dp/1403973016.
Staff, Modadivas. “Pinocchio in the Costumes of Massimo Cantini Parrini from the Film by Matteo Garrone.” Modadivas Fashion Magazine, 22 Dec. 2019, http://www.modadivasmagazine.com/en/2019/12/22/pinocchio-costumi-massimo-cantini-parrini-matteo-garrone/.