It’s finally happened! With Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio having become public domain in 2022, we’ve already had to sit through two adaptations of this dark 1883 classic – one of which was so bizarre it gained instant legendary meme status, while the other was yet another lifeless remake of a vintage Disney classic. However, 15 years in the making, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio that everyone’s been waiting for, having been in the works long before any of the others. And I am delighted to say that Disney failed miserably in trying to steal del Toro’s thunder here!
Co-directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson, it follows the story of an old man named Geppetto who lives an idyllic life in rural Italy with his young son, Carlo. However, Geppetto falls into years of severe depression when Carlo is killed in a bombing at the dawn of World War II. In a grief-stricken, drunken state, he vows to remake his deceased son using the Italian pine he planted over Carlo’s headstone. Little does he know just how shockingly efficacious this plan will prove to be.
Similar to other adaptations we’ve seen over the years, del Toro’s Pinocchio deviates significantly from the source material, choosing the sociopolitical backdrop of World War II over Collodi’s original setting of late 1800s Italy. Instead, this film takes place during the mid to late 1930s, when Italy was under the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini. However, this change actually really worked. Setting Pinocchio during this deeply troubled era of European history lends itself to the overarching shadow of darkness del Toro casts over what is widely known as an upbeat cabaret fantasy – courtesy of Disney’s 1940 adaptation. In a sense, it holds more significant similarities to Collodi’s tale in that this version is far more fearless in how gnarly it’s willing to get.
Furthermore, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio fully embraces Italy’s culture at the time, from etiquette and visual settings to religion and the uncomfortable political climate. Refusing to shy away from the flattering and the unflattering, it is the first adaptation of Pinocchio I have seen that has lacked an overabundance of Americanisation and, instead, felt authentically Italian.
But one of my favourite things about Pinocchio is its lack of fear regarding character flaws. A notable gripe in previous adaptations (you know who you are), del Toro chooses to delve deep into the less-flattering effects of fear, guilt, grief and perceived inadequacy. The adverse effects these things can have on an individual’s personality is a recurring cause of conflict throughout the movie, allowing the characters substantial room for satisfying growth.
Of course, as with all animated shows and movies, we HAVE to talk about the visuals – ESPECIALLY when they are created with the painstaking art of stop-motion. And my goodness is this film a thing to marvel at! Having been pushed towards 2D animation to cut corners on budget, del Toro’s insistence on keeping the stop-motion format really paid off. From the lighting decisions and imperfect scenery to the small details like the split wood and nails in Pinocchio’s back, right down to the dirt under Geppetto’s fingernails, Pinocchio is a shining example of what the stop motion medium is capable of. With its highly detailed character models and fluid camera dynamics, the love and care poured into this film really shows. And with a run time of just over two hours, Pinocchio takes the crown for being the longest stop-motion feature length to date. An impressive feat, given that every minute of this lengthy feature is of outstanding quality.
And the stunning aesthetic was given its crowning jewel of life by the exceptionally talented voice cast. The boyish innocence of Gregory Mann in the leading role of Pinocchio played beautifully opposite the more tired and grouchy vibe given to Geppetto by David Bradley, making for a night and day duo that made their conflicting dynamic all the more engaging. However, my personal favourite is Ewan McGregor’s performance as the narrator of the film, Sabastian J. Cricket. McGregor gave this classic, fan-favourite character a new lease of life as the charming, somewhat egocentric wordsmith who undertook his role as Pinocchio’s guide for not entirely the right reasons. But with the gentile nature provided by McGregor’s interpretation, it was clear from the get-go that Sebastian had a caring heart, providing a warm presence that the viewer was eager to follow throughout the tale.
All of this was punctuated by a charming musical score composed by Alexandre Desplat. While some of the musical numbers that were peppered throughout the movie felt a bit out of place, those that were worked into the narrative added to the film’s conflicting atmosphere of innocence and corruption. Furthermore, Desplat’s decision to compose the score entirely of wooden instruments adds another subtle yet wondrous layer to the movie’s immersive experience.
Despite one or two minor hitches plot-wise, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is the adaptation we all needed and deserved. Beautiful from every angle, it is a visual feast that violently yanks at the heartstrings. A true labour of love, it explores all the distinctly dark subject matters that Collodi originally intended and more, all through the lens of whimsical, vibrant fantasy that is equal parts chilling as it is charming. All the terrible adaptations that came before can finally be forgotten because this, without a doubt, is the ONE.
Have you seen del Toro’s Pinocchio? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.