To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a stop-motion animated musical fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Mark Gustafson (in his feature directorial debut) from a screenplay written by del Toro and Patrick McHale (Gravity Falls). Featuring the voices of Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, and Tilda Swinton; the film is based on the 1883 Italian novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. The story follows Pinocchio, a wooden puppet that is brought to life so that he can bring joy to his heartbroken creator Gepetto who is grieving the death of his son.
On a hilltop in Italy, Gepetto (David Bradley) visits his son Carlo’s grave. Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor) explains in a voiceover that Gepetto lost his son during WWI at the young age of 10. As Gepetto dusts the snow off of Carlo’s tombstone he reminisces on when his son was alive. In a flashback, Carlo (Gregory Mann) swings outside and notices some planes flying overhead. He runs inside to tell his father to guess what he saw and notices that he is crafting something. When Carlo asks what it is Gepetto tells him to guess in a joking manner. After a few guesses, Gepetto tells him he’ll have to wait to find out. Later that night the two build a fire together, enjoy dinner, and get ready for bed. After reading Carlo a bedtime story Gepetto lulls his son with a song his wife used to sing.
Gepetto is shown spending time with his son. Pushing his boy on a swing, taking him to school, chopping down a pine tree to build a crucifix for their church, and making Carlo a new pair of clogs. As they head into town, the duo is greeted affectionately by the townspeople. They head to the church so that Gepetto can put his finishing touches on the crucifix. Carlo shows his father a perfect pine cone, hoping he can plant it someday. As night falls Carlo hears planes flying overhead. Gepetto says it’s time to head home and they exit the church. Carlo forgets his pine cone and runs back inside to get it. While admiring his father’s work the church is destroyed by a falling bomb killing Carlo.
Pinocchio is one of the most widely known children’s literary characters. Since being published in 1883, the story remains the most translated Italian book and the second most widely read book in Italy after the Bible. The story has been adapted time and time again into merchandise, books, plays, television shows, and films. The most significant and well-known project being Walt Disney’s animated feature film Pinocchio (1940). Interestingly enough, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is the second Pinocchio adaptation to be released in 2022 after Disney’s live-action remake of their 1940 animated film. This is probably the reason Guillermo del Toro’s name is tacked on the title. To put some separation between the two movies and of course for marketing and awards purposes.
Luckily for the viewers, the film is drastically different than the Disney interpretation. The movie is a passion project for del Toro and was first announced back in 2008. At first, he was only going to pen the screenplay, but after years of being stuck in “development hell” he took over as one of the directors as well. This is a major reason why the film took so long to complete. Financing eventually came from Netflix, and thank God they stepped in because this film is gorgeous. It’s not live-action or the typical cel-shaded or computer-generated animation. Guillermo del Toro decided to go with stop-motion animation which is a long and arduous task. But making the film in this style sets it apart from other animated features. Especially in a world dominated by multiple CGI adaptations. Only two other stop-motion animated films were released this year, The House and Wendell & Wild, with both being produced and distributed by Netflix.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is darker and more realistic than other adaptations – to a degree. There is still a blue fairy, talking cricket, and other fanciful elements to the story, but the film explores, grief, war, religion, fascism, slavery, death, and the human condition. Most incarnations tend to stick with the puppet coming to life and trying not to lie. Gepetto having a deceased son is only mentioned in passing if even mentioned at all. In this film, Gepetto and Carlo are shown as devout Catholics praying and attending church. After losing his only son, Gepetto spends years as a recluse drunk, cursing the Lord for not listening to his prayers. Before Pinocchio enters the picture he is not in a good place at all. Especially in juxtaposition to how joyful he was before his son passed.
There are government officials such as Podestà (Ron Perlman) who wish to turn Pinocchio into a child soldier to fight for Benito Mussolini. Young boys like Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard) bully him for being different. Traveling performers like Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) who wish to exploit him for their own profit and priests who believe he was brought to life through means of witchcraft. We even see Pinocchio die multiple times throughout the film only to come back after spending an increasingly longer time in the underworld.
The animation style is eerily beautiful and right in line with what del Toro normally does in his films. He based Pinocchio’s design on Gris Grimly’s illustrations from his 2002 edition of Pinocchio. The scene where Gepetto is putting the puppet together is cut like a horror film. He drunkenly hacks at the wood and shaves the pieces down to put the boy together. The final design is boy-like, but clearly still a puppet. The Wood Sprite (The film’s interpretation of the Blue Fairy) has a design that is based on Biblical angels with multiple sets of wings and eyes.
Still keeping in line with a kid’s film there are numerous songs throughout. All are a part of the story and explain what’s going on in the scene they are sung. The best song isn’t completely heard until the end as Sebastian keeps getting interrupted whenever he begins to sing it. The editing is also purposeful to keep the film from getting too dark at times. There is a scene where Count Volpe beats his monkey assistant Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett) for revealing his true intentions to Pinocchio. The camera cuts away whenever the monkey is actually hit leaving the implied violence to the audience.
This is a refreshing take on the classic fairy tale. Beautifully animated with a story that provides more depth than a puppet trying to become a real boy. I give Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio a Decent 8.7/10. The ending isn’t what I would call happy but it is indeed fulfilling. Hopefully, del Toro isn’t done with animation after this feature because his creativity and talents are what’s needed in this genre.