Since entering the public domain, several iterations and adaptations of Carlo Collodi’s famous tale The Adventures of Pinocchio have been brought to life like the titular character. Some more memorable than others including the 1940 Disney animated film. This year alone has seen 2 more of those adaptations. A couple months ago when the second adaptation released by director Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks as Geppetto, I mentioned in my review found here that there was yet another version on its way, an adaptation that would be the source materials saving grace. This version, co-written and co-directed by Guillermo del Toro represents a more faithful retelling of Pinocchio.
The story in this version is made up of the same DNA that previous ones have touched upon. Taking place in Italy during the Great War, a carpenter, Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) experiences a short time on earth with his late son Carlo (voiced by Gregory Mann). The two shared an unbreakable bond as father and son and once gone, Geppetto found it difficult to move on. Geppetto’s heartbreak turned into a drunken night of carving a wooden puppet that would go on to be named Pinocchio (voiced by Mann).
Narrated by Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), Pinocchio would be thrust into a terrifying world that is on the brink of annihilation. Not all elements of the classic tale are taken on a 1 to 1 basis by del Toro and co-screenwriter Patrick McHale. Instead of a blue fairy that Geppetto wishes upon a star, what del Toro and Matthew Robbins conceived of is far more mature in theme. On the night of his creation, Pinocchio and Sebastian are visited by a Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton) in which she bargains with Sebastian to watch over Pinocchio and the Sprite will grant Sebastian 1 wish.
At first glance, from the arrival of the first trailer, what Guillermo del Toro crafted would dazzle fans of the titular wooden boy and stand out among the sea of other iterations. In that sense, del Toro delivers on his promise. This Pinocchio is told in a stop-motion animated medium with a unique world and character design. Lines are harsh and jagged yet have a soft delicateness to them. The design of Pinocchio alone stands out among the other humans he interacts with. Only 1 ear is carved out and the back of Pinocchio’s head resembles a stump – from the same pine tree Geppetto cut down to use as the wood for his creation.
Opening the 117-minute film shows the relationship between Geppetto and Carlo. In the same circumstance, del Toro constructs this relationship to be the fundamental downfall of Geppetto – Carlo was perfect, Pinocchio is just a burden, a mistake Geppetto made. Going back to the first 20 minutes of the film, del Toro begins his fable the same way Pixar’s Up is told. Death of a loved one can change a person, they can become a shall of who they were, severely depressed and grief-stricken. Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale will rip your heart out, setting a darker tone that will follow the titular puppet on his journey of self-discovery.
Grief is the centralized theme in Pinocchio among innocence, acceptance and others. But these three are prominently featured throughout the runtime. Set against a backdrop of World War 2, Pinocchio is seen by those that surround him as a perfect soldier by Podestá (voiced by Ron Perlman) and a cash cow by Count Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz). Both looking to use Pinocchio for selfish gain, taking advantage of the innocence of essentially a child.
The more Geppetto wishes to control Pinocchio, the more Pinocchio rebels.
Shot by Frank Passingham, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is breathtaking, Though animated in stop-motion, the small towns in Italy come to life, capturing the beauty of the country in a fresh take. Juxtaposed with the new life, comes the darkness of war and the certain death that is sure to follow. Podestá’s son Candlewick (voiced by Finn Wolfhard) befriends Pinocchio after first mocking the wooden boy. Given the run time, del Toro, gives dimension to the supporting characters that only enriches the emotional heft. Replacing Toyland is a sequence involving the youth in training for the war.
Pinocchio’s dark and bleak moments are full of hope, the light in Pinocchio will never be extinguished. Pinocchio inspires good in others, Candlewick stepping up to his father and Spazzatura (voiced by Cate Blanchett), Count Vople’s mistreated monkey fighting back against the cruelty endured for so long.
Presented as a fantasy film, del Toro and McHale keep Pinocchio a musical. Some songs will add to the emotional weight while some could have been cut out. In looking at the rest of the landscape, the music aspect doesn’t hold its own end of the bargain. Though David Bradley and Ewan McGregor lending their voices to songs will be enough to forget the songs sung by Pinocchio.
Anchored by its gorgeous animation, talented ensemble cast lending their voices to this timeless story and the writing and direction by del Toro, Pinocchio is a triumph and the best iteration of the classic tale and the best-looking animated film this year has produced. Full of hope, fun, and innocence, del Toro reminds us of the worst of humanity, but that standing up to those in power, good will always prevail. Pinocchio will leave you in shambles in one scene and in the next, singing along with Pinocchio, swelling with optimism.
Screenplay By: Patrick McHale & Guillermo del Toro
Story By: Matthew Robbins & Guillermo del Toro
Directed By: Mark Gustafson & Guillermo del Toro
Music By: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Frank Passingham
Starring: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Tom Kenny
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: December 9, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 54 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Based On: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi