Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a labour of love suited for viewers of all ages
Viewers don’t need to have any strings attached to the original story to enjoy this dark yet introspective take on Pinocchio.
It’s rare to see studios release films that bear uncanny similarities, and for good reason.
In 1998, Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and DreamWorks’ Antz were released six weeks apart, turning into a source of great contention between the two corporate entities due to the resemblance between the films’ premises.
It’s why many were taken aback when they saw that not one, but three movies were set to be released at various points in 2022, all of which centred around Pinocchio.
While netizens remain split on whether A Bug’s Life or Antz is the better movie to this day, the general consensus is that Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a cut above the rest. In a ranking based on viewer ratings on IMDb, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio clinched the title of number one Pinocchio film adaptation over the last 140 years.
If that isn’t clear enough an indicator, the other two Pinocchio movies released this year – Pinnochio: A True Story and Disney’s live-action remake of Pinocchio – did not even make it onto this list.
In fact, when the trailer for Pinocchio: A True Story was first released, it went viral on TikTok as users joked about its questionable voice acting. The movie proved to be lacklustre when it was eventually released early this year, with many viewers expressing as much with low ratings on IMDb and Letterboxd.
Many even took to posting YouTube videos dedicated to critiquing the film, and leaving sarcastic Google reviews about how “life-changing” the movie was.
While Disney’s live-action Pinocchio was one that catered to younger audiences, various creative choices left fans of the original Disney animation feeling disappointed.
It’s for this reason that Disney’s rehash was ranked second to last out of all its live-action remakes thus far on Rotten Tomatoes, based on the opinions of hundreds of film and television critics.
Meanwhile, Gulilermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is more reminiscent of the original novel written by Carlo Collodi in 1883, with dark, gripping undertones that appealed to me despite having no strong fondness or connection to the Disney animation I’d seen a couple of times.
Even though all three movies stem from the same source material, reviews across the board make it clear that Guillermo’s Pinocchio clearly outshone the rest. And it’s no wonder, given that it’s a movie the 58-year-old has dreamed of making since he was in his early 20s.
It’s worth mentioning that Guillermo is far from a stranger to the film industry. On the contrary, he has many iconic films under his belt, such as The Hobbit Trilogy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim.
To my delight, Guillermo’s unique style carried into the aesthetics of his latest film to create a cinematic masterpiece. Marrying visual and creative elements from the horror and fantasy genres, Guillermo creates a whimsical world that is his own.
What really impressed me was that Pinocchio was made with stop-motion animation, a process that requires nothing less than absolute care and dedication to deliver.
The movie took a total of 940 days to capture, which is about 10 times longer than what is considered to be a lengthy production timeline for a film.
Stop-motion animation produces a unique style that computer animation just can’t replicate, and was definitely the right stylistic choice to best suit the tones of Pinocchio.
Where the story is concerned, Pinocchio also stands apart because it’s set in Italy, under the fascist rule of dictator Mussolini. This sets the stage for the movie to flesh out its characters and address various introspective themes.
The film starts off introducing Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) who lives with his only son, Carlo (voiced by Gregory Mann). Their quaint and happy lives come to a halt when Carlo is killed in a bombing, and we see Geppetto’s downward spiral to a life of solitude and alcoholism.
In a drunken stupor, Geppetto crafts Pinocchio from a tree which houses a talking cricket named Sebastian (voiced by Ewan McGregor). When Pinocchio is brought to life by the wood sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton), Sebastian agrees to help Pinocchio on the condition that the sprite grants him any wish when he becomes a good boy.
As we follow Pinocchio on his series of hijinks, I found that the movie did a good job of upping the ante on his naivety and innocence in a way that was endearing and amusing.
Unlike its Disney counterpart, Guillermo’s Pinocchio does not shy away from hitting you where it hurts, and exploring mature themes and topics such as grief and war. The cast also delivered raw, unadulterated emotion in their lines, which really helped to drive these messages home.
One of the most notable themes in this movie is that of conformity and obedience, which is unsurprising given that it’s set in the context of a fascist regime.
We see Pinocchio come under the control of various authoritative figures, all of whom try (unsuccessfully) to force him into submission. In a twist of irony, it is the people around him who act like puppets, bending to the whims of those in authority with no questions asked.
In contrast to the usual tellings of this story, Guillermo’s Pinocchio seems to imply that disobedience doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
After all, it is through his acts of “disobedience” and his genuine disposition that Pinocchio helps his companions find their voices and save his father from drowning.
Interestingly enough, Guillermo also took this film as an opportunity to comment on what it means to be a parent, and the mistake of not appreciating each other’s differences.
Initially, Geppetto refuses to accept Pinocchio as his son, wanting him to act as a replacement for Carlo. As a result, most of Pinocchio’s choices down the line are based on his perception that doing so will make him deserving of his father’s love.
In the end, he and Geppetto both learn the importance of unconditional love, and that they can be loved for who they are.
Guillermo continues to subvert his viewers’ expectations by straying away from the idea of Pinocchio learning to be a “real boy” from those around him.
Instead, we see how Geppetto and Sebastian are the ones who are taught to be better caretakers and individuals, as they grow past their grief and hubris respectively.
Pinocchio also takes on a more optimistic approach to the reality of death. Time and time again, we are reminded of though fleeting, our time with the ones we love is something that should be treasured.
Just like Pinocchio, Guillermo “rebels” by breaking boundaries and exploring profound themes in a manner that’s tactful and contemplative.
He doesn’t seem to care much for pandering to an audience of children, and it’s something that older audiences, especially fans of the original material, will be able to appreciate.
For all its merit, Guillermo’s Pinocchio would be nothing if not for the heart he had behind his work, which makes it a breath of fresh air compared to the other Pinocchio movies which have come out in the past year.
In a world where we are pressured to chase lucrative jobs and other typical benchmarks of success, it’s easy to forget the simple joys of life and neglect to put our own happiness at the forefront.
Pinocchio is a timely reminder for us to break out of that cycle and embrace our passions while we still can.
You can watch Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio on Netflix, and check out the behind-the-scenes work that went into the project here.