Review – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

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Overview

Synopsis A grieving father is given the chance to reconnect with his son when he is reborn as a wooden puppet.

Length 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Release Date November 9, 2022 (US), December 9, 2022 (Netflix)

 

Rating PG

Distribution Netflix

Directing Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson

Writing Guillermo del Toro, Patrick McHale

Composition Alexandre Desplat

Starring Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, Finn Wolfhard, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton

Director Guillermo del Toro has been granted a great gift in the last five years—Oscar clout. The one-time director of films like Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, Cronos, and more has spent the majority of his career fighting middling box office performances and struggling to get his visionary genre work onto the big screen. Between The Hobbit, Hellboy 3, In The Mountains of Madness, and Silent Hills, the director has become almost as famous for the projects he tragically CAN’T get produced as he is for the ones he gets into theaters.

With his 2017 homage to Creature From The Black Lagoon becoming a surprise Oscar darling, the director was given a rare respite and immediately given the chance to direct one of his passion projects, a stop-motion adaptation of Pinocchio.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: PG action and violence, with a few characters dying offscreen and a wooden puppet being partially injured painlessly.
Language/Crude Humor: Some rude humor.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None.
Spiritual Content: The characters are implicitly Catholic but the church is depicted as an accomplice of fascist war crimes and cruel towards outsiders. A Pagan forest sprite is depicted in the form of a Biblically accurate angel, and an afterlife is depicted.
Other Negative Themes: Some subversive themes about the true meaning of life and love.
Positive Content: A beautiful depiction of fatherly love, sacrifice, and anti-authoritarianism.

Review

It is curious that 2022 has seen two different adaptations of the classic fairy tale Pinocchio, or maybe it isn’t. Hollywood chases trends all of the time and it probably isn’t shocking that Disney+ might try and rush out a live-action Robert Zemeckis film ahead of a Guillermo del Toro stop-motion film for Netflix. What is more surprising though is how much the two movies appear to agree with one another.

As film writer Titus Techura notes, “Pinocchio is a story about how children learn to become moral. The puppet is a metaphor not only for helplessness but also for the way children are made to do what they do by their parents.” Both adaptions subvert this moral for stories about authenticity rather than conscience. And Guillermo del Toro—one of our greatest living genre filmmakers and equally one of our most prolific subversives—can’t help but turn a story like Pinocchio into his own special brand of subversive fairy tales.

It must be said that his rendition of Pinocchio is not only one of the most visually creative and wrenching films of 2022, but that it is a complete and total revamping of the character for his unique vision of the world. Del Toro remains one of my favorite filmmakers for the reason that his work is totally unique and uncompromised. It is messy in parts, particularly with the motivation of its central character, but our director’s eccentricities carry the film to its tear-jerking conclusion.

It should be celebrated solely because he managed to get a stop-motion animated film created in 2022 when those are consistent theatrical bombs.

Anyone familiar with the tale of Pinocchio likely needs no spoiler warning (although I won’t reveal any major spoilers unique to this version) but the film mostly plays out as a direct adaptation. Set between 1914 and 1945 in Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, the story follows a woodcarver named Geppetto who has grieved for decades over the tragic death of his son Carlo during World War One.

Unable to move on, a forest spirit appears one night and blesses a wooden doll he’d drunkenly assembled in his grief to look like his son. The living wooden boy comes to life and quickly becomes a nuisance and a burden to the town as Geppetto struggles to keep the local fascist townsmen from lashing out against the boy who doesn’t understand how or why to obey authority.

The story plays out as one would expect but with the details swapped around to fit Del Toro’s new themes. Instead of the story teaching Pinocchio what it takes to become a real boy, it teaches Geppetto what it means to accept Pinocchio as his son on his own terms, learning to love him in spite of his grief and the boy’s eccentricities, sending him on a journey to save him from a horrific fate at the hands of those who want to take advantage of his unique powers.

Swapping out the theme doesn’t entirely work. It doesn’t give Pinocchio enough of a complete character arc for some of his character choices to fully land, and his good-hearted rambunctiousness tends to be overbearing in tangible ways. It comes off as intermittently naive or annoying in its worst moments. It does hit hard in the right moments though. However, some of the musical numbers come off as a bit underwhelming (by the way, this is technically a musical).

Del Toro’s voice speaks loudly throughout the piece and his usual aesthetic flourishes give the film a unique and creative visual style. Pinocchio’s creation scene plays out like a scene from Frankenstein, his character design is more overtly inhuman than in the Disney adaptations, the plot explores the importance of his relative invulnerability, and the entire production is filled with moments of brilliant quirky humor that undercut some of the implicit horrors of life in fascist Italy (although he certainly doesn’t undermine them).

As anyone who has seen Del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth can attest, Del Toro is a director who wants to encourage people to disobey authority—and to sympathize with the unjustly downtrodden and hated. The worlds of his films—Shape of Water, Nightmare Alley, etc—exist in the space between the freaks and the fascists and you must choose your side or watch your humanity be destroyed.

And his Pinocchio is very much that—a story about why authority is evil, love is the most important thing in life, and accepting your mortality makes the suffering of life worth it. I don’t know if I share all of those values as a Christian, as authority and hierarchy can be healthy in the right contexts, but I can’t deny he is one of the most heartfelt depictors of those values on film.

Positives

+ Strong Emotional Moments
+ Amazing Stop Motion Animation
+ Mostly Solid Script

Negatives

- Some Curious Thematic Subversion of the Original Story

The Bottom Line

Guillermo Del Toro made a Pinocchio film that only he could make and the end result is a lovingly crafted, visually sumptuous, and politically subversive children's story that will break your heart!

 

8.7

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

1 Comment

  1. Bethany on November 25, 2022 at 9:06 am

    Thanks for your review. I was specifically looking for a review of this film from a Christian worldview, as I teach literature from that same view. This sets me up well for what I can expect from this adaptation.

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