Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio arrives just at the perfect time to wash off the poor taste of Disney’s uncanny valley-ridden, live-action Pinocchio remake. Coming off his twisted yet faithful adaptation of Nightmare Alley, Del Toro presents a far darker imagining of Pinocchio that is still sincerely heartfelt in every sense of the word. This is surely the best take on Carlo Collodi’s classic tale since Disney’s 1940 animated film. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio boasts all the usual, superb storytelling qualities from the Oscar-winning director, but with an extra dose of innocence given the inherent childishness of its central wooden boy.
This new adaptation is set in Italy during the reign of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. A clockmaker’s life is turned upside down after the sudden death of his beloved son. For years, Geppetto (David Bradley) remains torn apart and lost, yearning for the warmth of his lost son. After years of consistent prayer, Geppetto loses it in a drunken frenzy and decides to craft a puppet with the likeness of his son. Unbeknownst to him, a miracle occurs as Pinocchio the wooden boy is given the gift of life.
The rebirth of his son in Pinocchio Instantly changes everything for Geppetto. In his attempts to keep up with Pinocchio’s energetic and disobedient spirit, he accidentally raises red flags with local fascist authorities who see the wooden boy as a threat. Mussolini’s forces aim to shape Pinocchio into an obedient soldier, but the sentient puppet chooses another path as he runs off with a carnival, which ultimately isn’t much better than being drafted into the fascist army.
Many creative liberties are taken in reshaping this iconic story to Del Toro’s needs, which is something that famed director Robert Zemeckis failed to even fathom in his version earlier this year. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is substantially more thematically aligned with Carlo Collodi’s original vision than any past iteration of the 19th-century tale. It’s disturbing and twisted but with a true sense of stakes, although it doesn’t completely shun the chirpier, youthful nature of Pinocchio himself. The fact that del Toro kills Pinocchio many times, and has his characters doing fascist salutes, says a lot about the nature of this retelling.
Despite many similarities in production design and themes between Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Pan’s Labyrinth, Pinocchio ultimately isn’t like Ofelia, the intelligent child lead from the latter. Pinocchio is blissfully unaware of the stakes at hand in fascist Italy and the ripple effect that follows many of his adolescent choices. This creates the starkest difference from Del Toro’s other films as he goes full-out with Pinocchio’s childish naivety.
Pinocchio is constantly loud and obnoxious to everything that surrounds him. But just like in the original story, Pinocchio’s journey acts as a key moral lesson; if you stand up for yourself and those who you love and are truthful, you will find salvation. Del Toro, as in Pan’s Labyrinth, presses heavily on the importance of disobedience, which rings especially prevalent due to the film’s location and time period. Having chosen a time of extreme turmoil where a dictator tries to make obedient wooden puppets out of young soldiers, the film’s message strikes its chord louder than ever.
After seeing Tom Hanks’ lifeless portrayal of Geppetto earlier this year, it’s a complete joy to say that David Bradley absolutely brings it all as Del Toro’s Geppetto, even if he is just providing his vocal talents. Bradley brings so much emotion to the screen with his grumbly, yet soft performance. Newcomer Gregory Mann’s Pinocchio is somewhat similar to Benjamin Evan Ainsworth’s take from Zemeckis’ film – nothing all too crazy is asked of Pinocchio as a character – though everything surrounding Mann’s character is vastly different. The villainous figures in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio are played by Christoph Waltz and Ron Perlman, who are both strikingly memorable. And, of course, Ewan Mcgregor does an ever-so delightful job fulfilling the role of Pinocchio’s conscience in Jiminy Cricket.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio isn’t necessarily targeted toward children, however, it can certainly still be enjoyed as much by young viewers. The Mexican filmmaker has gone on record to call his animated feature debut a grown-up take on the story that trusts the maturity of its audience but balances a mix of tones so that it’s accessible for all. This reimagining of the well-known tale doesn’t play down to children nor does it present its more adult themes in a way that can completely alienate them. It’s a perfect mix of both worlds that will prove to have a long-lasting impact. A modern classic if you will.
The film’s maturity plays into the visual language too as the stunning stop motion animation on display looks nothing like the polished versions seen in more children-oriented counterparts. Take Pinocchio, he is an actual wooden puppet who only vaguely resembles a boy, rather than Disney’s human-like Pinocchio. Also, the film’s cinematography is beautiful as well as sometimes very dark and full of contrast when it comes to heavier, dramatic scenes. It’s clear that Guillermo del Toro’s vision isn’t compromised by the so-called limits of animation, in fact, his film only further proves the ever-reaching power of the animation medium as a whole.
Netflix has got a winner on its hands; certainly for Best Animated Feature. The sheer talent on screen throughout the entire film makes for an awe-inducing experience as one wonders how on earth anyone could manage to bring such a gorgeous and lively stop motion piece to life. Expect no less from Guillermo del Toro and his team. This filmmaker’s passion project was worth the long and trivial journey to get here. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a truly wonderful film that demands to be watched with friends and the entire family, no one should be left out of this viewing.