There’s no earthly way Carlo Collodi could have predicted his novel The Adventures of Pinocchio would become one of the world’s most popular stories when it was published in 1883. The fascinating tale of a mischievous puppet coming to life on a quest to become a real boy has resonated with nearly everyone who’s come across it: Who doesn’t want to improve their circumstances? That’s easier said than done, and Pinocchio’s journey is fraught with peril. Those familiar with the story through the Disney film would be surprised to discover that the original story is even darker than that adaptation.
The story of a puppet in living purgatory has attracted a surprisingly large number of filmmakers who have attempted to recreate the magic of Collodi’s tale, trying to get to the bottom of what has made this timeless story of the human condition so special. Some capture the spirit of the original story beautifully, offering enchanting worlds and characters. Others are disturbingly inept, and make you wonder how they were ever green-lit in the first place. The films are as vast as the creature that swallows Pinocchio whole. There are even more Pinocchio stories than the 24 listed here (while we watched every Pinocchio movie, we’re excluding made-for-TV specials and miniseries). One thing’s for sure: The popularity of the Pinocchio story shows no signs of fading, with three film versions released in 2022 alone.
Welcome Back Pinocchio (2007)
Have you ever lied awake at night and wondered how Santa Claus fits into the PCU (Pinocchio Cinematic Universe)? Of course you haven’t, but for some reason, Welcome Back Pinocchio has. It looks dreadful and displays a complete lack of imagination, with a script that feels impossibly amateur. It’s surprising Disney didn’t sue Mondo TV out of existence, as much of the designs (poorly) imitate the Disney classic. They even took the name Jiminy Cricket! (A Disney creation: The original story’s talking insect doesn’t have a name.) It does get an unintentional belly laugh when the evil cat says, “I’ve never met anyone as stupid as you, Pinocchio!” Pinocchio really goes through it on his mission to rescue Santa Claus (yes, really): Someone calls him “a little dung heap,” which provides the perfect summarization of this ghastly experience.
The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1999)
Because 1996’s The Adventures of Pinocchio wasn’t bad enough, they decided to make a straight-to-video sequel that ups the awful in every way. Pinocchio is very British for some reason and regularly speaks about the importance of enterprise. This time, it’s Geppetto who’s turned into a puppet … which thrills him, as he becomes the most famous puppet in all of Italy. The makeup looks like it was done at a children’s party, and everyone and everything looks terrible — this film has the scariest Sea Donkey (why God, why?) I’ve ever seen. To make things even worse, it perpetuates ugly, harmful stereotypes about transgender people. Pass.
A film that must expect you to know the story already, as it has no interest in establishing much of a plot of its own. The Czech remake is largely live-action but makes the dreadful choice to have Pinocchio (and his wood-cricket conscience) rendered in CGI. The result is jarring, to put it kindly. Pinocchio regularly looks like he’s floating around space. If the movie came out a decade or two ago you could excuse it as a product of his time, but this was made in the same year as Inside Out. At least this ugly snoozefest has a sweet old dog.
Disney is no stranger to remaking its animated classics, and the latest victim is Pinocchio. There was hope this time, as the film has some impressive pedigree with Robert Zemeckis directing and Tom Hanks starring as Geppetto. Unfortunately, this film is lifeless and pitiful, with some grotesque corporate grandstanding guaranteed to leave a bad taste in your mouth.
The acting is various shades of hollow — it feels truly international, in the sense that every character has a completely different accent. There’s a slew of dreadful, unimaginative songs and useless new characters that only weigh things down. It cranks up the brightness to an almost blinding degree in hopes you won’t look too closely: The effects are poorly dated, which is a real problem considering the film came out this September.
The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (1971)
Credit where it’s due: This is a very unique take on Collodi’s story. This X-rated oddity from the early ’70s turns Geppetto into Geppetta, a young craftswoman who can’t find her dream man, so she decides to create one. The film’s tagline is “It’s not his nose that grows!,” which should tell you everything you need to know. Pinocchio gets swept up into working for a brothel, where his member possesses such power that his thrusts shake the entire building. While it’s an amusing (or perhaps horrifying) twist on the familiar tale, it’s also shockingly inept and completely devoid of humor. This erotic adventure is distressingly wooden, and they missed a trick by not calling it Pornocchio.
Pinocchio: A True Story (2022)
“But father, when can I leave to be on my own?” was the line heard ’round the world when the trailer for Pinocchio: A True Story dropped earlier this year. It’s a Russian movie, but the English dub, featuring Pauly Shore as the titular puppet, has gotten all the attention. And it’s earned because each and every line is delivered with the same camp gusto that makes the film watchable. Well, just barely, because the film is every bit as lifeless as it looks. I honestly can’t tell if these actors are in on the joke, and that mystery is all that this movie has going for it.
A True Story purports to be the “real” story of Pinocchio — after all, have you ever seen a nose grow? That would be ridiculous, but the talking animals and magic make complete sense, apparently. It’s more emotionally inert romance than exciting adventure, and this Pinocchio sure does like to backflip. Credit where it’s due: This is a gloriously colorful retelling, but all the vibrancy in the world can’t distract from the fact that this is one of the ugliest CGI movies around (and that’s saying a lot with Pinocchio 3000 on the same list).
Roberto Begnini’s Pinocchio stands out for all the wrong reasons: The director cast himself, a 50-year-old man at the time of release, as Pinocchio. All the other kids in the movie are older too, but the age gap between them and Pinocchio still feels overwhelming. Unsurprisingly, an older man playing a child puppet is not only off-putting, but reeks of ego. It’s just so uncomfortable to watch that it overshadows everything else, and there’s a sneaking feeling that that’s exactly what Begnini was going for — he spends so much time yelling and screaming it’s like he’s begging you to look at him. That’s a real shame, because the set design and costumes are tremendous, brilliantly evoking a fairytale aesthetic. There’s definitely a kernel of a promising adaptation here, but the disastrous lead performance makes it hard to find. Apparently, the recut English version is even worse.
Pinocchio 3000 (2004)
It feels like the entire budget of Pinocchio 3000, a futuristic sci-fi retelling of Collodi’s tale, went into making Pinocchio look great, which unfortunately means that everyone else is varying degrees of nightmare fuel. Human characters live in the uncanny valley: Everyone else looks like a childhood nightmare monster. Its messages aren’t exactly subtle — the mayor’s name is Scamboli, and he’s building a theme park called Scamboland, and his goal is to wipe out all the nature in the city (which, of course, is called Scamboville). There’s not much of a plot here — what the hell is an imagination game, and why is it so important? — and the characters are barely developed. Where it really falters is that Pinocchio has no discernible character arc, which makes every development feel as hollow as Scamboville. Sure, the film offers something different, but why does it have to be so drab?
The 1992 version of Pinocchio comes from Golden Films, who’ve made an animated film from every public-domain tale you can imagine. The most distinctive thing here is that this puppet come to life absolutely loves to cry and whine. Seriously, Pinocchio doesn’t stop whining! It’s a torturous (and committed) vocal performance. The animation is uninspired and the plot is by-the-numbers with no new twists or turns. It’s largely harmless and inconsequential, but it has a big advantage over some of its competition: This isn’t a good movie, but at least it’s only 50 minutes long.
The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996)
Even the work of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop can’t prevent Pinocchio from looking like an experiment gone wrong. The film careens through plot points like it’s on a roller coaster — which happens to be the setting of an absolutely horrifying transformation sequence. The Adventures of Pinocchio doesn’t make any sense and feels tonally incoherent, but it’s actually pretty fun. The effects have aged poorly (Pepe the cricket is an early-CGI eyesore), but there’s a delightful energy lurking below this messy adaptation.
A madcap, breakneck-paced Pinocchio with an impressive commitment to animal costumes. One of Italy’s earliest feature films, it’s often surreal, absurd, and thrilling. It also frequently makes no sense whatsoever: There’s a sequence where an Indian tribe gets wiped out by Canadian forces, for reasons that are never explained. Polidor does a really impressive job as Pinocchio, maintaining the physicality of a puppet while constantly running around, which is no small feat. The film feels every bit as chaotic as the story itself, even if it’s often too unfocused and too unwieldy for its own good.
The Adventures of Pinocchio (1947)
A nice, generally inoffensive movie, The Adventures of Pinocchio is very faithful and adoring of its source material — perhaps to a fault, as it feels like a rehashing of the book and a little more. The movie almost feels like a response to Disney’s 1940 film, which did away with much of Collodi’s work. Collodi’s nephew, Paolo Lorenzini, tried to sue Disney but was unsuccessful and wrote this 1947 version instead. There are some interesting effects for its age, but time hasn’t been particularly kind to this straightforward adaptation.
Turlis Abenteuer (1969)
This charming East German version takes the idea of Pinocchio being a puppet the most literally, having the character played by a literal puppet, rather than a human child or animated character. It’s rather jarring at first — Pinocchio’s mouth never moves — but it ends up making the film feel more fantastical, like a storybook come to life. The sets look like they’re made out of cardboard, the costumes are silly, and yes, these are both compliments. However, the puppet show that’s supposed to entrance Pinocchio is shoddy, and the acting is wooden (sorry). But as family-friendly versions of Pinocchio go, you could do a lot worse.
The Adventures of Pinocchio (1984)
A bit of an outlier on this list, 1984’s Adventures of Pinocchio is actually a number of episodes from the anime series Kashi no Ki Mokku edited together into a feature film. Pinocchio is typically the most obnoxious character by a country mile, but this film really hones in on how awful everyone else is to him. Pinocchio gets turned into a tree, so a bunch of rich people … force him to sing for their entertainment, which turns into a lamentation of why people are so cruel to him. The film has no interest in following Collodi’s story, and a large portion focuses on Pinocchio’s desire to love and marry a real girl named Mirelle. Unfortunately, the animation is dated and the voice work is suspect, which all-too-frequently dulls the emotional impact. There’s also a literal war on Christmas, so maybe your problematic uncle will love it.
The Adventures of Pinocchio (1972)
If you need a film to remind you how consistently dreadful the puppet boy really is, The Adventures of Pinocchio is the perfect fit. He constantly screws up, ignoring poor Geppetto at every turn, which feels especially poignant here as Geppetto gets a lot more screen time than in most adaptations. The film is anchored with a wonderful performance from Nino Manfredi, who imbues so much humanity into Geppetto. It’s hard to make talking to a puppet feel genuine and heartfelt, but Manfredi does it with ease. His love for Pinocchio is so clear, which makes the puppet’s constant transgressions feel like a punch to the gut. It’s a very emotional movie, and there’s a timeless quality to this version, but it feels overstuffed and is the longest adaptation at 135 minutes. The miniseries it’s cut from is even longer, at over five hours.
Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987)
Former Disney animator Hal Sutherland’s Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night is actually a sequel to the Collodi tale. Set one year after the events of the book, Pinocchio is now living happily as a human, though he is about to face the biggest test of his life as he goes against a puppet master and almighty emperor. Emperor of the Night follows some familiar story beats from the original novel (including a chilling transformation sequence) while forging a unique path of its own. Sutherland’s film is dark, perceptive, and a chilling fable about the danger of leaning into temptation and what it means to manifest your own destiny. It is a fun new adventure for Pinocchio enthusiasts.
The Adventures of Pinocchio (1971)
Like Geppetto bringing Pinocchio to life, this 1971 Italian animation feels like it was made with love. It follows Collodi’s original story faithfully, without leaning too heavily into the darkness — until the all-important transformation sequence. Its striking character designs and narration separate it from the crowd. Italian animator Giuliano Cenci’s film attempts to add some real dimension to the lively puppet. Sure, he’s still pretty obnoxious, but this version in particular is keen to point out how Pinocchio is thrown off the right track by people always trying to take advantage of him. The film also uses a storybook to explain parts of the story — perhaps to keep things affordable, but it winds up adding to the fantasy feel of it all. Cenci’s Pinocchio is deeply invested in the character’s development, which makes its inevitable conclusion feel heartwarming and well-earned.
Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)
Look, if one thing is clear after watching every Pinocchio movie, it’s that the little puppet is a real jerk. But what if Pinocchio was a cold-blooded murderer? That’s the question posed by Kevin Tenney’s Pinocchio’s Revenge, a film that I have seen yet am not entirely convinced really exists. Basically an iteration of Child’s Play, it follows a killer doll carved by a serial killer who’s put on death row. It’s utterly nonsensical, filled with gaudy special effects, over-the-top acting, and approximately 95 close-ups of Pinocchio’s eyes. And yet, it works. It’s spectacularly camp, and it’s the perfect film to watch with a group of friends for a laugh and the occasionally successful jump scare. If loving Pinnochio’s Revenge is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Enzo D’Alo’s Pinocchio is so charming — using bold colors and a mixture of textures to create a lovely, warm, family-friendly experience. D’Alo’s film is faithful to the original story, capturing all sorts of minute details that purists will adore, while also expanding the lives of some memorable characters. It’s got some sweet, catchy songs, and a really whimsical, almost dreamlike quality as Pinocchio races through the Italian countryside. It’s super sweet, but not afraid to dive into the book’s darker aspects (which are plentiful). It’s one of the more family-friendly versions of the story and offers plenty to charm adults as well.
Pinocchio in Outer Space (1965)
Set a year after the events of Collodi’s novel, Pinocchio has been turned back into a puppet after he continued to disobey. He finds a potential opportunity to become a real boy once and for all, teaming up with an intergalactic turtle named Nurtle, as Pinocchio plans to use his newly learned hypnosis to take down Astro, a space whale causing mass devastation. Ray Goossens’s Pinocchio in Outer Space is every bit as outrageous as it sounds, and it’ll fill you with a warm nostalgia looking like all your favorite Saturday morning cartoons. It’s so much fun, racing along without taking a breath. Pinocchio in Outer Space stands out with its wonderful aesthetic, fun monsters, sense of humor, and boundless sense of imagination.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
Guillermo del Toro has worked on his own version of Collodi’s story for over a decade. His passion project is finally here, and it’s worth the wait. The stop-motion marvel is a wonder to behold, the craftsmanship is absolutely immaculate and consistently had my jaw agape. It understands the spirit of Collodi’s work but tells a very different story, focusing heavily on Pinocchio’s relationship with Geppetto while placing the story in the backdrop of 1930s fascist Italy. It’s an effective tool that offers a scathing critique of fascism, matching well with the wonderfully anti-authority Pinocchio. This is a really special film with some great characters, especially the scene-stealing Sebastian J. Cricket, voiced by Ewan McGregor.
The Adventures of Buratino (1959)
The Adventures of Buratino is actually an adaptation of Aleksey Tolstoy’s book, which is itself an adaptation of Collodi’s novel. There are some truly wonderful and unique character designs (excluding a few that feel dangerously close to incurring Disney’s wrath). It also has a distinctly Russian bent, having the puppets turn against the puppetmaster, seizing the means of production. It’s quirky, it looks beautiful, and it’s a great example of Russian animator Ivan Ivano-Vanov’s remarkable craftsmanship and creativity. Much of Ivano-Vanov’s work is lost, but The Adventures of Buratino is an excellent starting point to discover his talent. This is a lovely, whimsical odyssey that doesn’t waste a second of its 67-minute runtime.
There’s no Pinocchio film that perfects the balance of creepiness and heartfelt better than Matteo Garrone’s. The effects, which favor remarkable prosthetic makeup over digital work, are astonishing, expertly balancing fright and whimsy. Just look at Pinocchio — no other film has made the character more convincing as a puppet come to life. Garrone’s film feels like a classic story in all the right ways, delivering exciting, fantastical characters and a powerful moral. It’s one of the few films that capture how tremendously obnoxious Pinocchio really is, but the film gives him a heartening redemption that he genuinely earns. It also feels like an apology for the 2002 version, casting Begnini as Geppetto instead of Pinocchio, a role he’s far better suited toward. Add in a gorgeous score by Dario Marianelli, and you have a wondrous — if overlong — movie.
Could it be anything else? Granted, the Disney adaptation of Pinocchio does away with a lot of the detail that makes Collodi’s story special, but it’s also one of the most terrifying visions the studio has crafted. It stands above the rest for a multitude of reasons: No Pinocchio film has a song more memorable than “When You Wish Upon a Star.” No other Pinocchio film recognizes just how grotesquely evil the coachman is. None have a better donkey transformation sequence, which is downright blood-curdling. It’s not just a hugely entertaining, perfectly paced film — it’s also an incredible work of art. I could watch a simple moment when Figaro (one of Disney’s most adorable creations) opens the window over and over — its use of lighting is extraordinary, the kind of thing that computers do these days without a second thought, made long before such technological advancements. It’s not just the best Pinocchio movie: It’s one of the best films ever made.