Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Everyone is familiar with The Adventures of Pinocchio. Italian author Carlo Collodi wrote the children’s novel way back in 1883. Since then, the mischievous pursuits of a lively puppet have been fabricated and reassembled dozens of times. The most famous interpretation in 1940 by Walt Disney is rightfully considered one of the greatest animated films ever made.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is not the version you’re acquainted with. Given the number of adaptations, that’s a welcome thing. The director is known for dark and bizarre productions, and this gorgeous stop-motion animated production is no different. For one thing, it takes place in 1930s Fascist Italy when Benito Mussolini was the prime minister. The time period — set later than originally written — casts a sinister pall over the proceedings. The haunting mood gave me chills.

Del Toro describes his beliefs as falling somewhere between being an atheist and an agnostic. Pagan elements abound. The Wood Sprite brings Pinocchio to life, but our protagonist also meets her sister, Death, an even creepier figure that looks like a Chimera out of greek mythology. She’s flanked by black, skeletal bunnies playing poker. Nevertheless, the director’s Catholic upbringing infuses the happenings with religious iconography too. Geppetto, a good-hearted and faithful believer, is responsible for whittling a massive crucifix that sits above the altar in the local church. Pinocchio is fascinated by the wooden statue and awkwardly mimics how it hangs. The gesture is uncomfortable as it carefully teeters in the balance between innocence and blasphemy. “Everybody likes Him,” the little marionette naively observes. “He’s made of wood, too. Why do they like him and not me?”

Despite the heavy themes, this is a story to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The chronicle still concerns a woodcarver named Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley), who chisels a puppet from pine and calls him Pinocchio (Gregory Mann). He does this after his human son dies from a bomb dropped in an air raid. The toy comes to life with help from a blue-glowing wood sprite (Tilda Swinton), and dreams of becoming a real boy. Ron Perlman voices a fascist official named Podesta, who turns Pinocchio into a soldier in a military camp for youth. Finn Wolfhard is Podestà’s son Candlewick, a bully, then a friend. Christoph Waltz is the aristocrat turned carnival master, and Ewan McGregor is his insect conscience Sebastian J Cricket.

Pinocchio is an eerie, animated fable of love and disobedience. I found the gloomy tone depressing at times, but it is also supremely touching. Composer Alexandre Desplat balances the macabre touches with a lush score appropriately performed using only wood instruments (violin, piano, harp). The saga is also a musical and offers a bevy of hauntingly beautiful tunes, the most memorable being “Ciao Papa.” Pinocchio sings the melancholic ode when bidding farewell to his father.

The animation is the best part. I was dazzled by the look of the world created here by Guillermo del Toro and veteran Mark Gustafson (animation supervisor of Fantastic Mr. Fox). Pinnochio looks like a figure carved from wood, but even the human characters have a sculpted quality that lends this picture a hand-crafted aesthetic. A host of producers are credited, including The Jim Henson Company. The look is reminiscent of the work of Tim Burton, like Corpse Bride, but also LAIKA Studios, who did Coraline and ParaNorman. It must be acknowledged somewhere that this is a colossal improvement over Robert Zemeckis’ live-action remake of the Disney classic earlier this year. Del Toro’s adaptation is ultimately an innovative and mesmerizing take on the quintessential tale.

Now playing in select theatres, Premieres on Netflix on Dec 9th.


4 Responses to “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”

  1. I like to warch it too soon. nice movie from the use of jargon in your review I cant wait to make my own critique.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a different take indeed. At, times I didn’t know how to receive the religious parts either. But I loved the music and I always like a different take of a classic. This one did not disappoint. Yes, “ Ciao Papa”, was a stand out. 3 1/2 stars ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

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