Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

by | Dec 5, 2022 | 0 comments

Del Toro’s animated adaptation is a profoundly moving one

We seem to be receiving a glut of “Pinocchio” adaptations; from Matteo Garrone’s faithful book adaptation Pinocchio (2019), to the unoriginal Disney live-action remake Pinocchio (2022). However, the most anticipated take on the wooden boy, which had been announced and in the works for nearly half a decade had held back its release, until now.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) is a loose adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s 19th century children’s book, only this time taking place in 1930s Italy. Geppetto (David Bradley) is a carpenter in a small town, who lost his son Carlo (Gregory Mann) in a World War I bombing. In a bout of drunken grief, he carves a wooden puppet, Pinocchio (also Mann) in Carlo’s likeness. A passing pitying wood sprite (Tilda Swinton) takes pity on him and gives Pinocchio life. Pinocchio is completely new and naïve to the world, however, and needs the cricket Sebastian (Ewan McGregor) to be his moral guide through his adventures. 

This is del Toro’s first foray into directing animation, and he chooses stop-motion, which always proves delicious to look at. Stop-motion has always been a fascinating medium of such painstaking delicate work that is sadly overshadowed by the computer generated animation of today. However, stop-motion works on another deeper level within this adaptation of “Pinocchio” since it has puppets telling the story of a puppet. All the figures seem to be roughly carved of wood, as if they were antique old toys del Toro found on an excursion through Italian hamlets. 

Del Toro has veteran animator Mark Gustafson co-direct alongside him, so that the animation and camerawork feels fluid while in the Mexican director’s transition to the medium. Just as with del Toro’s film Nightmare Alley (2021) he continues with a fascination of the role of the truth and lies within society. This is more directly explored in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, as we see the backdrop of Mussolini’s Italy forcibly intercede in the narrative. There are some ingenious adaptations with this concept, changing Pleasure Island into a youth military academy, having Mussolini as a character watching Pinocchio in his circus act, showcasing tongue-in-cheek how the literal puppets follow fascist rules unquestionably, and playing with the idea of justified rebelliousness in the face of corrupted authority. Much of “Pinocchio’s” original lessons were about following rules and being obedient in order to truly be loved. Del Toro flips this on its head, prodding viewers to question whether rules and obligations are worth following, and if love should not be derived from forcible change, but come unconditionality.

Del Toro spends more time with Geppetto, than other adaptation, developing him as a character to the point that he is largely the protagonist for half the film. This helps make the central relationship at the center of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio all the more intriguing. Geppetto has as much to learn about being a father as Pinocchio does in being a son. The character of Pinocchio, meanwhile, is placed on a philosophical journey, seeking the truths of life. This is played through his inquisitiveness at societal norms and by having Pinocchio visit the abstract character of Death (also Swinton) intermittently. This approach made the character of Pinocchio seem like a mix between the Collodi protagonist and Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” wherein the central Creature is also used to deconstruct the simple meanings of life. 

Del Toro brings a balance of his signature darkness with humor and playfulness. The narrative never slows down, with the new additions and political backdrop do enough to keep adult viewers allured. There are musical numbers, which are rather interchangeable and forgettable, but are few and spread out along the runtime. On a family-friendly level, Pinocchio is not the sanitized and easy version that Disney will sell you, instead bringing reality and complex themes to kids by treating them as capable and intelligent.

In the end, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a beautiful stop-motion animated film from del Toro and Gustafson. Del Toro delivers on the promising mix of his style and source material, executing the type of profound and poignant narrative that sticks with you long after the credits roll.








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