As woodcarver Geppetto carefully fashioned his puppet from a humble block of wood, a new film adaptation of Italian author Carlo Collodi's 1882 story Pinocchio, green-lit last week, has emerged in similar fashion in Hollywood. A few sketches by American artist Gris Grimly led to a new edition of the book in 2002 and from there to plans for a stop-motion animated film backed by Mexican Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro and also involving producers Pathé, The Jim Henson Company and musician Nick Cave. A sinister and macabre team to match Grimly's sinister and macabre drawings.
Although Collodi's work is best known in its sweetened 1940 Walt Disney version, his original novel is a much sadder and more disturbing tale, a portrait of poverty-stricken 19th-century Italy and a defense of education over laziness told via the story of a vain, ignorant wooden puppet who wants to be a flesh-and-blood boy.
"It will be macabre and dangerous, as fairy tales should be," says Grimly
Del Toro and Grimly's movie, which is set to start its two-year shoot in the UK at the end of this year, lies somewhere between the two, aiming to recover "the ambivalent spirit of Collodi."
"It will be macabre and dangerous, as fairy tales should be" says thirtysomething Grimly (he won't specify his exact age), who began his career as an illustrator back in 1998 and has worked with authors such as Neil Gaiman, Carolyn Crimi and Laura Leuck. He began the Pinocchio project back in 2003 after finishing the drawings for the book, his first major job as an illustrator. Looking for a director, he found one in the form of a fan. "I buy a lot of original art on fairy-tale and comic-book themes and Grimly had an exhibition of the Pinocchio book art," says Del Toro. The gallery called the artist and the two met for lunch to talk about Pinocchio. Grimly offered him the job of directing it. "I said no because I was snowed under with work," says the filmmaker, "so it gave him the idea of directing it himself."
And that's how it's to be: Grimly will direct - alongside Mark Gustafson, animation director on Wes Anderson's stop-motion flick Fantastic Mr. Fox - and Del Toro will produce, as well as rework Collodi's original tale with his regular screenwriter, Matthew Robins. "We want to do a fairly daring Pinocchio," says Del Toro, quoting episodes from Collodi's novel that don't appear in the Disney version, such as Pinocchio's death and resurrection halfway through and the fact the Fairy Godmother is a dead little girl.
The film will be "steeped in my love and taste for horror movies," says Grimly, who hopes to make a film as much for children as adults. "I'm not sure what it is that makes a child gravitate toward the terrifying and the macabre. But I think there is certainly a moment for every child when they enjoy being scared."