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'Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio' Film Review

Master of the macabre, Guillermo del Toro solidifies that he has an indelible understanding of filmmaking and telling an earnest, entertaining story.
[L-R] Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio voiced by Gregory Mann) in Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. Courtesy Netflix.

[L-R] Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio voiced by Gregory Mann) in Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. Courtesy Netflix.

Disney's 1940 Pinocchio was only the studio's second animated release but captured the hearts of millions. Its signature song, the wistful, magical "When You Wish Upon a Star," won an Academy Award. Based on the 1883 children's novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlos Collodi, the story involves a wooden boy, an animated puppet, who wants to become a real boy. What could possibly go wrong?

Master of the macabre, Guillermo del Toro, has been trying to put together his own version of Pinocchio since 2008. It finally found a home with Netflix, a company that gave del Toro free rein to produce his vision. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, a stop-motion masterpiece, is currently in limited release in cinemas and will hit Netflix on December 9, 20022, just in time for Christmas. With this film, he solidifies that he has an indelible understanding of filmmaking and telling an earnest, entertaining story.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO. Photo credit mandraketheblack.de/NETFLIX © 2020

GUILLERMO DEL TORO. Photo credit mandraketheblack.de/NETFLIX © 2020

At an American Cinematheque screening and Q&A at the Aero Theatre in Brentwood, del Toro said that two of the movies that influenced him when he was growing up were Frankenstein and Pinocchio, which he said are similar stories. And that is true. In both stories, man creates something he can't control. Guillermo's Pinocchio is much melancholier and more Stygian than previous versions, yet the overall message is one of incomparable love and hope. The story touches on the special nature of father-son relationships and the sacrifice that most bona fide relationships require. Guillermo believes that “animation isn’t just for kids.” While kids certainly can appreciate his version of the classic tale, there’s definitely a very adult perspective in the interpretation and translation of the Disney fairytale.

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Voices are key in an animated story. Ewan McGregor’s Sebastian J. Cricket is a wry version of Jiminy Cricket. Gregory Mann as Pinocchio is capricious and delightful. His sweet voice conveys a precious innocence. David Bradley as Geppetto struggles with embracing life after the death of Carlo, and we hear it in his weary voice. Sixty teams worked at once at one point during the production of this film. But one wouldn’t be able to tell that by looking at del Toro’s film because everything thing looks so effortless and real. The atmosphere is palpable.

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Alexandre Desplat’s score moves through valleys of emotions, lilting and achingly beautiful. It deftly highlights Pinocchio’s journey of being human, warts and all. Pinocchio realizes that being human covers a wide spectrum and being a good boy is on the better end of it. Del Toro said that he was “seeking life in animation not simulation of life” when he made this, and he’s achieved that and then some. Co-written by Del Toro and Patrick McHale and co-directed by Mark Gustafson, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a testament to living life in the face of death. It’s carpe diem told with visual and verbal poeticism. 

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Set during the rise of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, in the 1930s, the film deftly dances between horror and humor. It’s both lighthearted and troubling and unabashedly rejoices in the complexity of being human. By the end of the movie, we have to acknowledge that del Toro is the puppet master of our heartstrings because this film puts us through an array of sentiments. It celebrates life, death, and everything in between. Like del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, a child is faced with the darkness that is in the world, in adults, and in himself. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is not only one of the best animated films of the year, but one of the best films of the year. Guillermo del Toro’s version of this enduring tale represents dealing with love, loss, grief, forgiveness, and inescapable mortality, which are things we can all relate to. 

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio will be available on Netflix on December 9, 2022.


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