When you think of “Pinocchio,” you might think of Disney’s animated adaptation of the classic tale. However, like many fairy tales, Disney’s version is not the sole authoritative version of it, and it is open to reimaginings and different takes on the source material.
Enter Guillermo del Toro, who has been working on his own “Pinocchio” film since 2008. What we eventually got is last year’s fittingly titled “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” which is a meticulously-crafted stop motion film whose production quality evokes Laika or Aardman Animations — the studios behind “Coraline” and “Wallace & Gromit” respectively.
The film takes place in Italy during World War II, in which wood craftsman Geppetto (David Bradley) loses his son, Carlo (Gregory Mann), after the church Geppetto was fixing the crucifix for was bombed. This sends Geppetto into an alcohol-fueled spiral, which eventually sees him cut down a tree serving as the home of narrator Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor; he goes by Jiminy Cricket in the Disney version) with the intent of remaking his son out of its wood. A Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) takes pity on him and decides to bring the wooden doll he makes to life as Pinocchio (also voiced by Mann).
From there, Geppetto slowly comes to terms with Pinocchio, as he initially rejects him due to Pinocchio causing trouble with the people in his village. They are governed by Podesta (Ron Perlman), a fascist who first sees Pinocchio as a threat, then as an asset for the war (being made of wood, he cannot die). He also attracts unwanted attention from Count Volpe (Christopher Waltz), a slimy ringmaster who wants Pinocchio to be an attraction for his show.
Like any kid, Pinocchio gets in plenty of trouble, with most of it being a result of the opportunistic Podesta and Volpe and his overall naivete. Everything is brand-new to him and he is also a child who doesn’t understand the war or fascism; it’s all a game to him. The film does treat these topics with the gravity they deserve — and a few characters do meet untimely fates — but Pinocchio is mostly blissfully unaware of how dire the state of the world he was thrust into is.
Del Toro’s take on this tale is refreshingly original. I love how its tone is whimsical with an undertone of melancholy, which at best represents a war between Pinocchio’s childhood innocense and the crushing weight of the world around him. This film is also brimming with personality in everything from its character designs to its narrative choices and narration. This is not a typical fairy tale film that shies away from asking interesting and challenging questions, which makes it perfect for both adults and children.
Compared to other adaptations of “Pinocchio,” what really makes this stand on its own is its depiction of Geppetto, who serves as our main character until Pinocchio arrives. The film takes much-needed time to flesh out what his relationship with Carlo was like and what the boy meant to him, which gives Carlo’s death all the more weight and Pinocchio’s arrival more weight and context. You really get the sense that Geppetto had his entire world taken away from him and he has nothing to live for when Carlo died, and because of that, he arguably wasn’t ready for Pinocchio.
This is one of the most beautiful animated films I’ve seen in a long time. Its world and characters make it stand above other adaptations of this source material and it’s a very nice looking film. It has a lot to say about loss and love, what it means to be a father, as well as those who wish to take advantage of us for their own agendas or personal gain. I highly recommend this film to people of all ages; children will enjoy this, but adults will be able to connect with it on a deeper level.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” gets a 9/10
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