I have to admit that I could barely remember if I’ve seen any adaptation of Pinocchio. It’s odd I know, considering how many incarnations there are, whether animated or live-action. There are varied interpretations of this classic fable based on the children’s novel by Italian writer Carlo Collodi, but what’s consistent is that he’s constructed out of pine wood by Geppetto and his nose grows when he lies.
I skipped seeing the latest Disney’s live-action version and I personally think Pinocchio is best suited in animated form, so I love the fact that this one is done with a stop-motion style. Narrated by Ewan McGregor (with his distinctive Scottish accent) as Sebastian J. Cricket, the story begins happily enough–Geppetto is a well-liked woodcarver in his village who lives with his obedient and well-behaved son Carlo. But soon tragedy strikes and Carlo is killed by a WWI bomb which leaves Geppetto absolutely grief-stricken.
After months of deep mourning, Geppetto ends up creating a wooden puppet out of the pine tree growing from his son’s grave that’s been watered by his tears. A magical fairy called Wood Sprite gives Pinocchio life and instructs Cricket to be his guide. Pinocchio grows to be an exuberant, rambunctious boy that often befuddles and frustrates his ‘dad’ in equal measure.
As Cricket says at the beginning of the movie, this is a reimagining of a story we think we know. Written by Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale, this adaptation embraces the darkness of the source material, unlike the sanitized Disney versions. Coming from del Toro, it’s expectedly twisted and even scary at times but also beautifully heartwarming. There’s a touch of Frankenstein in this Pinocchio, which del Toro always associate with since he saw Pinocchio as a kid. The character design of the puppet itself is an homage to Frankenstein, what with nails poking out of his head and body, and he’s not dressed in Lederhosen and hat that we’re used to seeing.
Setting the story in war-torn Fascist Italy grounds the musical fantasy and gives it a sense of realism that’s likely too dark for young kids. I mean, a fascist government official (voiced by Del Toro regular Ron Perlman) sees the immortal Pinocchio as the perfect soldier as he’s un-killable–it doesn’t get more disturbing than children being sent to war. There’s also child trafficking and exploitation by a circus ringleader, which shows just how wicked human beings can be. This adaptation isn’t afraid to explore darker themes such as war, death, loss, and betrayal.
Similar to Frankenstein, it tackles fundamental questions of what it means to be human and Pinocchio’s disobedience is considered a virtue in the context of wartime where authority figures like Mussolini are evil and ought to be resisted. His growing nose that happens when he lies even has a redemptive quality, cleverly woven into an action scene involving a giant fish that has echoes of Jonah from the Bible. A self-described lapsed Catholic, Del Toro’s films are often steeped in Catholicism. There’s a moment inside a church, starring at a huge altarpiece statue of the crucified Christ, Pinocchio asks Geppetto ‘He’s made of wood too. Why do they like Him and not me?’ Geppetto’s response is more philosophical than spiritual, saying that people often fear what they don’t know.
The visuals are mesmerizing and magnificent to behold. Stop-motion animation is such a delicate art form that requires exceptional craftsmanship, this is perhaps the most beautiful stop-motion I’ve seen so far. Del Toro and co-director Mark Gustafson, in his feature film debut, built such a magical world with painstaking, intricate details that adds a realness to a fantastical tale. It proves once again that animation is not a genre just for kids. Del Toro’s wild imagination is on full display here, what with his interpretation of the afterlife consisting of card-playing rabbits and Death is apparently Wood Sprite’s creepy twin sister.
The voice cast is full of big names, many of whom have worked with Del Toro. My favorite is definitely McGregor’s Cricket, so hilarious as he tries to keep up with Pinocchio and often gets squashed in the process. Character actor David Bradley provides the right amount of pathos as Geppetto, and young Gregory Mann has the most adorable speaking and singing voice, absolutely perfect voice casting there for the lead role. I immediately recognize Tilda Swinton’s and Christoph Waltz’s voices as Wood Sprite/Death and puppet master Count Volpe, respectively. I was surprised to see Cate Blanchett’s name in the credits as the voice of Volpe’s monkey assistant Spazzatura as he barely speaks, but he’s definitely a memorable character.
I adore the gorgeous music by Alexandre Desplat, this could be one of my favorite soundtracks of the year and would likely nab an Oscar nomination. My favorite song is Ciao Papa, written by Del Toro and sung beautifully by Mann who voiced both Carlo and Pinocchio. I tear up when I first heard that song, it’s such a moving piece about a son longing for a father.
I love what Del Toro’s done with this classic tale… it’s as haunting as it is soulful. It could very well be my favorite of his work to date. It’s currently playing in theaters before it drops on Netflix on December 9, surely it’d look amazing on the big screen. Though visually resplendent, it’s much more than just a technical marvel. I dare say it’s quite a masterpiece and destined to be a modern classic.
What do you think of this Pinocchio adaptation?
13 thoughts on “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) – a dark, twisted, and mesmerizing modern classic”
I don’t want to see this. I NEED TO SEE THIS! I love Guillermo as I know he always has a unique take on certain stories and I know he wants to create the story and do something different with it. Not like the one that Robert Zemeckis made which is just lazy as I saw a bit of it and… BLECH! Never want to see the rest of it. I can always count on Guillermo.
I never thought I’d care to see a Pinocchio adaptation as there have been so many of them! But man I LOVE this one so much, gorgeous but also moving and soulful. That song Ciao Papa made me cry!
I have no desire to see the Disney/Zemeckis version, blech indeed!
I don’t get Hollywood obsession with Pinocchio and Peter Pan, there’s been tons of movies, tv shows and other media that’s based on these two characters. I think the only Pinocchio movie I saw was Disney’s animated version that came out many years ago. Not sure if I’ll watch this one, Guillermo’s work has been hit or miss for me. I prefer his earlier work like The Devil’s Backbone and Blade 2.
Yeah, Hollywood always wants to milk the heck out of every classic tale but few can do it right. I don’t always love every del Toro films but you can’t refute that he is a visionary and his visual and storytelling flair are on full display here.
I have yet to get my kid to sit through any adaptation of Pinocchio in its entirety. Maybe he’ll sit through this one because it looks “weird.” Though I love Del Toro’s style so I’m looking forward to it.
Ahah yes it does look weird and that is part of the charm actually. I think younger kids might be spooked by this adaptation but older ones might actually love it. If you love del Toro’s style then you won’t be disappointed!
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