Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – Review

Guillermo Del Toro Pinocchio NetflixThere have been at least twenty four cinematic adaptations of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi’s story of the wooden boy brought to life. Three of these appeared in 2022 alone. Surely, there cannot be any more interpretations to make? And yet, director Guillermo del Toro has managed to breathe new life into this classic fairytale in his stop-motion adaptation. It is dark yet hopeful; innocent yet weary. Del Toro takes characters we are familiar with and creates something quite different.

The most obvious update is the setting. Traditionally, Pinocchio is set somewhere in the 1800s. In this version, the little wooden boy is brought to life in 1930s Italy, where the shadow of Mussolini and his particular brand of Fascism reaches even the smallest of mountain towns. Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) has lost his son in a World War One bombing and, ruined by grief and anger, cobbles together a wooden puppet. Whilst he falls into a boozy sleep, a mysterious angel (Tilda Swinton) brings the “fine Italian pine” to life.

The film opens by exploring Geppetto’s back story; the life he had with his son prior to his death. It is the Italian idyll – a small village where neighbours share bread and skills; where everyone knows and looks out for one another; where tinkling Alpine music gently stirs each night. The loss of his son is sudden and barbaric, a true casualty of war. With this loss – and Geppetto’s subsequent grief – the village changes. It becomes grey and shadowy. Posters about obedience and duty spring up. People are cold and fearful.

This is the backdrop in which the titular character is brought to life. His extreme effervescence and precociousness are in stark contrast to the weariness and trauma that has eaten away at his creator. This is a boy borne of loneliness and loss of faith, yet he is so full of love.

It is these extremes that pervade this fairytale. The comically short and square Mussolini is countered by the angular, lithe Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz). The soothing philosophical musings of Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor) are offset by Podesta’s (Ron Perlman) emphatic recitations of Fascist beliefs. Themes of duty to both father and Fatherland are infused into every element of the script. The warnings about telling the truth and doing the best you can remain the key messages at the heart of the story.

The vocal performances, here, are incredible. David Bradley’s Geppetto creaks with sorrow and loss. Gregory Mann’s vocal performance, as Pinocchio, is nothing short of brilliant. He is frustrating and funny; earnest and emotional. Christoph Waltz positively slithers his way across the screen as the greedy, scheming circus manager. Tilda Swinton lends an ethereal, husky tone to both the Blue Angel and Death. Ewan McGregor lends an easy charm to the usually uptight character of the Cricket.

Guillermo Del Toro Pinocchio NetflixThe stop-motion animation is phenomenal. There is so much detail, so much life, given to these characters. You will invest in them the way you would with a live action film. Their tears and their joy feel real. As Pinocchio is brought to life, his uneasiness with his limbs is clear. The pain and suffering etched into Geppetto’s face – like one of his one wood carvings – is incredibly rich in detail. The fantastic reimagining of the Blue Angel, with her many blinking eyes and emotionless face, is nothing short of a spectacle.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is another creation of beauty. There are elements of Alpine music; war marches; fairytale peril and joy. There aren’t too many big numbers, throughout, but Ciao Papa and My Son stand out as the most poignant.

This is one of those remakes where it doesn’t feel like yet another remake. It is charming and delightful, yet emotional and dark. The haunting “Pleasure Island” scenes from the Disney movie are replaced with something even more terrifying – a Fascist training camp for young boys. Count Volpe is an intense, interesting villain. There is no chintz or cheese. Del Toro – who co-wrote the screenplay with Patrick McHale – makes everything feel fresh and engaging, like a story reborn.

Everything about this film feels so intricate; a real passion project come to life. Perhaps Geppetto has more than a touch of his creator in him. He has been conducting the most adorable press tour, taking a Pinocchio marionette with him to red carpet and interview appearances. He speaks passionately about animation being recognised as film, not as a genre. And, with the performances here every bit as poignant and entertaining as a live action remake, it is very hard to argue with that.

Pinocchio is now streaming on Netflix.

Mary Munoz
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