Choosing to tell the classic story with all its original dark moments intact means that there are scenes in which we get to see a grown man with a Cupie-doll-minus-the-curl hairstyle, clad in a Pierrot suit, make an ass of himself over a dead donkey, get lynched, and use a giant hammer to squash a cricket. This is neither amusing nor edifying for children or adults, and the "be-a-good-boy-and-learn-your-ABCs" moral is spelled out so often that it makes you wan to play full-time truant, at least from your theatre seat.
Commedia del Arte and traditional pantomime should have come across as a valid style for illustrating this fable, but what we mainly have is a great deal of skipping from Benigni, a form of activity which should never be indulged in by anyone over seven, however young they are trying to look. Benigni merely looks silly, his excessive physical ebullience even more annoying than usual, and with his voice dubbed by Breckin Meyer ("Road Trip") there is no inner spirit present which might have at least matched his antics.
The 11th-hour choice to dub is clearly another big mistake. The star names corralled for this thankless task are totally arbitrary. The result is yet another absurdity. For example, Glenn Close is the voice of the Blue Fairy. Anything less magical would be hard to imagine, though visually Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's real life spouse, is already extremely pedestrian. At least we hope she forgives her husband. We don't. Starring Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Carlo Giuffre and Peppe Barra. Directed by Roberto Benigni. Written by Roberto Benigni and Vincenzo Cerami. Produced by Gianluigi Braschi, Nicoletta Braschi, Mario Cotone and Elda Ferre. A Miramax release. Fantasy. Italian-language; dubbed. Rated G. Running time: 99 min