One of the most famous names in all literature is Pinocchio, a wooden puppet brought to life who wishes to become a real boy. Created by Italian author Carlo Collodi and first being published in serial form in Italian magazines in 1881, the character made his first big appearance in the children’s story The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883. The Pinocchio character has become a source of national pride for Italy, one of their most famous folktales. The story has been retold countless times, with the most famous being the Walt Disney animated film Pinocchio, which was released in 1940.
The Adventures of Pinocchio has been translated into countless languages and is one of the best-selling books of all time worldwide. In 1940 the character entered the public domain, a big reason as to why it’s constantly adapted, and since then the puppet’s story has been retold multiple times across various media by a wide variety of storytellers. In just the last two decades, since 2002, there have been seven film adaptations of Pinocchioperhaps the best being from Roberto Benigni.
Now, in 2022 alone, there will have been three different versions of the story released. First was Pinocchio: A True Story, a Russian animated film whose English dub had Pauly Shore voicing the title character. Later this year Guillermo Del Toro will make Pinocchio in stop-motion animation for Netflix, in a movie set during the rise of fascism in Italy in the early 1930s. Legendary filmmaker Robert Zemeckis is working with Disney to remake their version of the classic story, with Pinocchio set to release on Disney + on September 8, 2022.
Yet what is it about this story of a wooden puppet who dreams to be a real boy that has captivated audiences for almost a century and a half? Pinocchio is such a timeless story that the period, genre, and even names of characters can be changed yet the core theme remains the same. This simple fable is the story of the human condition, or what defines a person.
Pinocchio Shows That Experiences Make One Human
In Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, the character undergoes several painful experiences. This is baked into the story’s purpose as a fable meant to teach kids an important lesson. In the story of Pinocchio, the key lessons that the author intends to impart are the importance of truthfulness, hard work, and education. After all, Pinocchio would not have undergone such terrible trials that happen in the book like being hung or turned into a donkey if he had just followed the path and gone to school.
Yet it is through Pinocchio’s mistakes that he truly learns what it means to be human. One’s life experience often defines a person, with the lessons they learn from both positive catharsis and negative pain becoming important lessons. In the end, the character learns to be good not because he is told to be but because it is the culmination of his life experience to that point. By the story’s end, he returns home to his father, fulfilling the classic archetype of the hero’s journey laid out by writer Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The journey he goes on transforms him, both metaphorically and literally, and reflects the changes in life everyone experiences.
No Strings On Me and Free Will
Pinocchio is created as a puppet puppet, meaning he requires someone to pull his strings to traditionally move. Yet his sentience allows him the first steps to move freely as he wishes. This is reflected in the song ‘I’ve Got No Strings’ from the hit 1940 Disney version of the story.
The story kicks off when Pinocchio fails to follow Geppeto’s listen and instead of going to school goes with Honest John. Yet had Pinocchio just listened to every order given to him, how is he any different than a normal puppet? The cost of freedom means he will make decisions on his own, and with that freedom, he will make mistakes adults around him may not like. This free will is a part of growing up, as children grow they are given more freedom and responsibility and grow outside of their parents. Pinocchio is the examination of free will as it relates to humans and also a parallel to how children grow up.
Pinocchio Is A Reflection on Frankenstein
In many ways, Pinocchio itself is a magical re-imagining of the story of Frankenstein. (Ironically, Guillermo Del Toro was working on a Frankenstein project before scrapping it in favor of Pinocchio). Written by Mary Shelly in 1818, 63 years before the publication of Pinocchio’s first appearance, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus also tells the story of a man who creates life, with the difference in genre as Frankenstein is a horror story (and arguably the first science fiction story), whereas Pinocchio is a fantasy story.
Frankenstein explores the dangers of recklessly creating life, whereas Pinocchio is a celebration of it. While Frankenstein attempts to create sympathy for the creature, he is still referred to as a monster, but Pinocchio is simply a boy, and it is his point of view from which the story is told. Frankenstein ends in tragedy, but Pinocchio ends with a happy ending.
The parable between Pinocchio and Frankenstein is drawn upon in the 2015 film Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the titular villain Ultron is first animated moving like a puppet and reciting the classic lyrics to ‘I’ve Got No Strings,’ while also being a creature of science who has a creator like Frankenstein’s monster. Ultron, like Pinocchio, wishes to upgrade to a new body, and like Frankenstein’s monster, he wishes to not be alone. This is further driven home with the character of Vision, who is brought to life with lightning like the most famous film incarnation of Frankenstein, but is the extension of the ‘real’ body Ultron wanted for himself. Paul Bettany’s Vision goes on to have a life with the love and loss that comes from being ‘human’.
Pinocchio Can Be Told In Many Genres
As noted with Frankenstein and Avengers: Age of Ultronthe base story of Pinocchio is so universal that it can be told across a variety of genres. The Japanese manga series Astro Boywritten and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, is a clear Pinocchio parable, with a boy with human emotions who is created by Umataro Tenma after the recent death of his son. Astro Boy is robotic but also acts like a human, and lives among the world like a young boy similar to Pinocchio. Astro Boy then inspired the popular manga Battle Angel Alita, making itself a spiritual successor to Pinocchio. One could even call Mega Man a Pinocchio story.
One of the most notable influences of Pinocchio is in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi movie AI Artificial Intelligence which draws an explicit parallel to the story of Pinocchio, as David (Haley Joel Osment) is an android boy who becomes obsessed with the idea of the story of the wooden puppet who dreams of being a real boy. He seeks out the Blue Fairy in an attempt to make himself real.
AI examines the concept of personhood in the story of Pinocchio. Even if one is not the traditional definition of a human, like David (who is robotic) and Pinocchio (who is wooden), if they can express emotions like love, does that not make them real? What is ‘human?’ Perhaps as artificial intelligence becomes more and more ‘real,’ the Pinocchio tale will become increasingly meaningful to society, as signified by the three Pinocchio films in 2022 (of which, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio may be the most intriguing). These various adaptations show just how universal and wide-reaching the story of Pinocchio truly is, and how it will continue to influence storytellers for years to come.