The Adventures of Pinocchio: The Pioneering Italian TV Drama.
“The Adventures of Pinocchio” is a television drama adapted from the novel of the same name by Carlo Collodi, directed by Luigi Comencini. It was first broadcast on Italian television on the Programma Nazionale in April 1972, divided into five episodes, with a total duration of 280 minutes. It was then rebroadcast in five episodes on the tenth anniversary of the film in 1982 on Rai TV1.
Comencini created a longer version, lasting 320 minutes, divided into six episodes. This version was also adapted into French by Pierre Cholodenko and broadcast in December 1972 on the Première chaîne de l’ORTF. The six-episode version was reproduced on home video, then digitized and broadcast on the digital channels Rai Movie and TV2000. A shorter version, lasting 135 minutes, was also commercialized.
The idea was conceived as early as 1963 when Comencini and Suso Cecchi D’Amico, after the copyright on Collodi’s work expired in 1940, began to write a new screenplay together. However, they abandoned the project upon learning of Federico Fellini’s intention to film the same story. Comencini wanted to give “his” Pinocchio a particularly delicate and poetic vision, adding a subdued melancholy to the entire affair, despite the participation of some actors known more for their comic roles. According to Paolo Mereghetti, the drama had a “perfectly cast” ensemble, with a satisfactory reduction from the book with “more social realism at the (slight) expense of the fantastical component”.
The leading actors were Andrea Balestri (Pinocchio), Nino Manfredi (Geppetto), Gina Lollobrigida (Fairy with Turquoise Hair), Franco Franchi (the Cat), Ciccio Ingrassia (the Fox), Vittorio De Sica (the judge), Lionel Stander (Fire-Eater), Domenico Santoro (Lampwick).
The drama narrates the well-known events of Pinocchio, a puppet who must learn to be a good son to his creator, the old and poor carpenter Geppetto, to become a real boy.
In 19th-century Tuscany, in a small mountain village of the region, the caravan of a famous puppeteer, Fire-Eater, arrives before departing for the distant Americas in the summer. As the two musicians of the puppeteer, the Cat and the Fox, make the announcement, a poster of the show sticks to Geppetto, a widowed carpenter who, inspired by the puppet on the paper, decides to make a wooden puppet of his invention to travel the world and earn his livelihood due to the lack of work. Geppetto’s neighbor, Master Cherry, also a carpenter but well-off, decides to replace a table leg, but the wood he intends to use speaks and complains. To get rid of it, Cherry gives the wood to Geppetto, who came to ask him to lend him a log for his puppet, but not before the wood creates trouble by insulting and hitting Geppetto, shifting the blame to Master Cherry.
Returning home, Geppetto works all evening to build his puppet, which he decides to name Pinocchio in honor of a friend. When Geppetto realizes that the wood can talk and move, he blames hunger and continues to work, believing he is imagining interacting with the puppet, even talking to the painting of his deceased wife. During the night, the spirit of the woman, reincarnated as a Fairy, proposes a precise pact to the puppet while Geppetto sleeps exhausted: to become a temporary boy if he behaves correctly, or else he will return to wood until he has proven his goodness to become a boy forever.
The next day, Geppetto notices that he has a boy in the house. Blaming tiredness and hunger, the carpenter finds that the boy is not only real but is also Pinocchio, namely the puppet he built the day before and miraculously turned into flesh and blood. However, Pinocchio leaves the house and, chased by Geppetto, causes trouble in the city, even being pursued by a fisherman from whom he had stolen lunch. After Pinocchio is stopped by the carabinieri, Geppetto explains to everyone that he had carved a puppet and that a boy appeared in its place the following morning. Believing him to be mad (and unfit to maintain a child), the carabinieri arrest the carpenter and entrust the little boy to some washerwomen, who lose him as soon as it starts to rain. Pinocchio returns home but, finding nothing to eat, first finds an egg among a pile of dirt outside, discovering that the egg now hosts a chick, then goes to
ask the neighbors, in the middle of the night, for food, but one of them, not happy with the “joke,” throws a bucket of water at him.
Pinocchio returns home and, lighting a fire in the fireplace, dries himself in front of it and discovers he is not alone in the house: there is also a centenarian Talking Cricket who preaches to him about his behavior, telling him that the Fairy will not be at all pleased with all this. In response, Pinocchio throws an ash spreader at him, killing him and breaking the painting of Geppetto’s wife. At that point, Pinocchio turns back into wood, and his feet, too close to the fire, get burned.
Released from prison, Geppetto returns home, saddened by the fact that he has discovered that Pinocchio has run away to the washerwomen and perhaps has not returned home. Fortunately, Master Cherry tells him that Pinocchio seems to be at home, but the door is locked. Geppetto, passing through the window, finds Pinocchio turned into wood, confusing himself even more and frightening Cherry, who was peering through the window. Pinocchio, wanting his feet back, promises Geppetto that from now on, he will behave well. Geppetto gives him another chance, and Pinocchio turns back to normal (again frightening Cherry, who had just recovered). After eating three pears found on the window (dropped by Cherry), Geppetto makes a suit and a hat for Pinocchio out of paper, then sells his jacket to buy an ABC book for his son. Everyone at the shop is confused until Master Cherry explains the situation, showing them Geppetto waving at Pinocchio and running towards his first day of school.
Arriving at school, however, Pinocchio is distracted by the music coming from Fire-Eater’s traveling theater and decides to see it but, having no money to enter, decides to sell the ABC book for the ticket money. Pinocchio enjoys the show, which the Cat and the Fox narrate, until, hungry and tired, they entrust the carillon to a child and go to eat. Just then, the puppets notice Pinocchio and invite him on stage. Pinocchio joins them, transforming into a puppet just when Fire-Eater bursts onto the stage, capturing Pinocchio and locking him in the monkey’s cage, ordering the others to resume the show.
Geppetto, accompanied by Cherry, goes to school to pick up Pinocchio, but not seeing him come out, asks the janitor if he has seen him, who says he never entered. While Cherry consoles Geppetto, he notices that a child has Pinocchio’s ABC book and finds out it was bought by the child’s father from Pinocchio to see the show. Geppetto rushes to Fire-Eater’s theater wanting to give his son a good scolding, but finds out that they have been gone for a long time and that Pinocchio is in Fire-Eater’s hands. Chilled and heartbroken, Cherry offers him a sip at the inn to forget everything.
Fire-Eater’s caravan, which was observing the living puppet, suddenly stops because the boss is hungry. Cat and Fox light a fire, but with the snow and rain of the previous days, the fire struggles to light. Fire-Eater decides to burn the living puppet and orders the two musicians to take him, but they only find a child (transformed in time by the fairy to save him from the flames). Geppetto, meanwhile, decides to follow the caravan and save Pinocchio.
Fire-Eater, meanwhile, believing that the Cat and the Fox are playing a bad joke on him, yells at them, and so the Fox replies that he and the cat resign (against the will of the Cat). In response, Fire-Eater shoots them, which terrifies the two, who run away at full speed. Pinocchio, finally getting his attention, explains that the puppet was him but that he transforms into a puppet and child because of the Fairy. Fire-Eater does not follow him but decides to continue cooking his dinner and orders the coachman to throw Harlequin into the fire, but Pinocchio asks for mercy for his counterpart and offers to throw himself into the fire, even if it means never seeing his father again. Fire-Eater is moved (sneezing) and allows Pinocchio and Harlequin not to be burned, eating the mutton raw instead.
Pinocchio decides to tell Fire-Eater about his father. Touched and moved, he gives him new clothes and five gold coins to bring to Geppetto, recommending that he not lose them and not show them to anyone. On the way back home, Pinocchio meets the Cat and the Fox again, who, now unemployed, pretend to be disabled beggars and, having discovered
Initially, the artist Carlo Rambaldi was called to create the puppet. He later stated, “RAI assigned me to make tests to create the puppet. I remember a man from the production came to see me in the workshop. I didn’t know he was a mechanical engineer. He asked me various questions about the procedures adopted and the mechanisms. Then I heard nothing more. Later, a colleague explained to me that they had to paint Pinocchio, while the ‘Radiocorriere’ announced the airing of the first episode. Obviously, it was not my Pinocchio.” Rambaldi thus resorted to legal action. “Only an expert appraisal could have determined if the Pinocchio that RAI was about to broadcast was the same one conceived by me.” He also said: “Comencini and the film’s producers asked me if I could develop a mechanical Pinocchio with believable movements. I had to do it at my own expense because there was no money, behind the promise that afterward, they would have it made more professionally. I made this Pinocchio puppet and I remember that Renato Guttuso, with whom I was working on the scenes of a Carmen, wanted to buy it at all costs. I made three puppets: one that threw the hammer, one that walked, and another that spoke and gestured. We shot some tests at Cinecittà and in the end, I said: ‘When you have signed the contract with RAI, call me.’ Instead, no one ever got in touch. Months later, I find out that they are making the film and copying my inventions. I sued them. And I won.”
The famous soundtrack was composed by Fiorenzo Carpi and has had many reinterpretations. Among its tracks are:
- Lampwick’s theme (opening titles)
- Pinocchio’s theme or Birichinata (end credits of the individual episodes)
- The melancholic theme of In search of food
- Geppetto’s theme, also performed as a song by Nino Manfredi (end credits of the last episode)
- The Fairy with Turquoise Hair theme or Tre per tre, also adapted into a song.
- Andrea Pinocchio (sung version by Andrea Balestri of “The theme of Pinocchio”)
The Pisan Balestri was chosen among numerous children from Tuscan elementary schools, summoned by the director for the audition: despite his tender age, he was indeed lively and rebellious, as required. However, in many scenes, Balestri performed numerous interpretations with an excessively shrill voice, so much so that Comencini had to have Balestri redub himself during mixing. Despite the huge success, Balestri only followed the path of cinema partially. As an adult, he was invited to numerous broadcasts and interviews, and he has been involved in a traveling video-theatrical project dedicated to Comencini’s film, in memory of the director, who died in 2007.
Domenico Santoro (Lampwick), on the other hand, was a Neapolitan boy, fatherless with ten siblings. He worked in an auto repair shop and was chosen thanks to a TV documentary on child labor that Comencini had shot a year earlier. Given his strong Neapolitan accent, he was dubbed by an unknown boy from Livorno, chosen by the director during mixing. Santoro did not follow the path of cinema either: after working again with Balestri in Black Turin (of the same year), more reserved by nature, he returned to anonymity in Naples.
Ugo D’Alessio (Master Cherry), also an actor with a marked Neapolitan accent, was instead dubbed by Riccardo Billi, the same actor who plays the Little Man of Butter. Billi also lent his voice to the Talking Cricket in the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” in the famous Disney animated film produced in 1940 and played a minor role in the film The Adventures of Pinocchio by Giannetto Guardone in 1947.
Mario Adorf, who plays the circus director in this drama, played Geppetto in the 2013 television miniseries on the same subject, directed by German director Anna Justice and still unreleased in Italy.
The wooden puppet used in the film was the work of Oscar Tirelli, who also took care of it during the scenes. Three copies were made: one static, the original later purchased by an entrepreneur from Nice, one mechanical, used for the moving scenes, now preserved in the archives of San Paolo Film in Milan, plus a head without eyes (for the mechanical eye movement scenes), preserved in the Prati Theater in Rome, and another aquatic, made up of various divided and waterproof pieces, for the water scenes, preserved in the Cinepat archives in Rome.
The drama was produced in color, despite the fact that RAI still broadcast in black
and white at the time (RAI’s regular color broadcasts would only begin five years later, on February 1, 1977).
The design of the puppet is inspired by the drawings of Carlo Chiostri, one of the first illustrators of Collodi’s novel.
In 2009, another TV miniseries in 2 episodes based on Collodi’s novel was produced and aired on RAI, where the same dynamics of this one were used: Pinocchio played by a flesh-and-blood actor who turns back into a puppet when he gets into mischief.
In 2013, in another miniseries based on Pinocchio, Mario Adorf, who here plays the circus director, covers the role of Geppetto.
Despite the Tuscan setting of Collodi’s novella, the drama was mainly shot in Lazio, between the provinces of Rome and Viterbo:
- Farnese (Viterbo) – the set used for the beginning of the story. The borough of the Church of Sant’Umano is Geppetto’s house, Master Cherry’s and Teodoro’s Shop. In Casa Farnese, in the town center, there is the fake Carabinieri station. Behind the Monastery of the Poor Clares is both the scene of the Washhouse and the house of the peasant who pours water from the window on Pinocchio’s head. Via Colle S. Martino (behind the Town Hall) is the location of the “School Palace” scene and the “Vendita Vino” Tavern.
- Ischia di Castro (Viterbo) – The bridge where Geppetto looks for Pinocchio, located on the Fiora River.
- Isola Farnese (Rome) – The Osteria del Gambero Rosso.
- Lake Martignano – The Fairy’s house, the Fairy’s grave.
- Antemurale del Porto di Civitavecchia (Rome) – Reconstruction (on the inside) of the fishermen’s borough from which, on a tiny boat, Geppetto leaves for the distant Americas in search of Pinocchio; on the outside of the pier, the scene of Pinocchio’s arrival who dives to help Geppetto already at the mercy of the waves: both are swallowed by the sea.
- Colle Fiorito (Guidonia) – The Land of Toys; the scenes were shot in the Baracconi, sheds used for drying tobacco, then demolished in the mid-nineties to build the first shopping center in the area: Piazza Italia, La Triade Shopping Center.
- Saline di Tarquinia (Viterbo) – The town where Pinocchio meets Lampwick, finds the Fairy believed to be dead, with her house on the lake, and attends school.
- Teatro Sociale di Amelia (Terni) – The circus where Pinocchio, turned into a donkey, is mistreated by the director and ends up breaking a leg.
- Beach of Torre Astura (Nettuno) – The beach where Pinocchio and Geppetto, escaped from the belly of the sea monster, land at the end of the drama.
- Caprarola (Viterbo) – “The class of donkeys”
Topics: Luigi Comencini’s adaptation of The Adventures of Pinocchio, behind the scenes of Comencini’s Pinocchio series, Carlo Rambaldi’s legal battle over Pinocchio’s puppet, the making of Pinocchio’s TV puppet, the legacy of 1972’s Pinocchio television series
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