[This article originally appeared in High Points magazine.]
Some stories are retold so often that they become part of our cultural folklore; eventually we are able to go our entire lives knowing the story full well without ever having read the original. Collodi’s Pinocchio is such a book.
Walt Disney’s splendid film version of Pinocchio has probably done more than anything to keep people interested in this quirky old book—the great irony being that the film is a very loose adaptation that barely gives a sense of the book at all. Disney alters a few situations such as: Pinocchio is alive before Geppetto carves him, the Blue Fairy is a corpse the first time the reader meets her, and Pinocchio kills the Talking Cricket (Jiminy Cricket in the movie, but don’t worry, he comes back to life.)
Although these are pretty major differences, what’s lacking more is the book’s wealth of adventures and characters. The movie may have an easier-to-follow structure, but it is only a surface treatment of the book.
My kids thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it very humorous, not only because Collodi has a fun & wicked sense of humor, but also because several of Pinocchio’s adventures were, in their words, “totally random” (such as the giant snake laughing itself to death.) We read a modern reprint of the 1925 edition illustrated by Attilio Mussino; though the translation is a little stiff at times, the crazy illustrations make up for it. However, a variety of more modern translators and illustrators have worked with the story, so if you’re interested in reading it look around for a full-length edition that works for you.
Collodi’s imagination ran rampant when writing this book, inspiring not only Disney but countless re-tellers of the tale. However, to spark a child’s own imagination, it seems to me that the original book would do more than the last 120 years of abridged, adapted, and otherwise simplified versions.