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‘Pinocchio’ review: Guillermo del Toro’s re-imagining is a real joy

By December 11, 2022No Comments5 min read
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The last two years or so has been filled to the brim with Pinocchio adaptations. In 2021, the internet laughed through the pain of the highly meme-able Pinocchio: A True Story and just this past summer we got to see Disney’s rather heartless live-action remake Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Now, it’s Netflix’s turn to present their version of the beloved story, and the result is both surprisingly and unsurprisingly wonderful.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a simply beautiful iteration of the classic fairy tale novel first penned by Carlo Collodi in the late 19th century. It radiates charm with its usage of stop-motion animation to tell its finely-tuned tale. And it adds a compelling commentary on parenting, perfectionism, and even fascism in its wide-eyed attempt to say something new with this character, while still honing in on what made the original source material so enduring.

Pinocchio has been in Del Toro’s mind for a while. He first announced the film in 2008 as a darker retelling inspired by Gris Grimly’s illustration for the 2002 edition of The Adventures of Pinocchio. Del Toro co-directed the film with Mark Gustafson and co-wrote it with Patrick McHale, creator of the beloved animated series Over The Garden Wall. Suffice to say, this was far from a one-man show.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – (L-R) Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann). Cr: Netflix © 2022

Meticulously crafted filmmaking.

What immediately stands out in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is its technical quality. Del Toro’s previous films have been famous for his unique artistic direction, sweeping cinematography, and careful attention to detail while creating his monstrous, yet charming creatures. In Pinocchio, he adapts his signature styles to stop-motion and executes the form like a generational master. The film’s setting, a small Italian village during the rise of Mussolini in the 1930s, feels like a lived-in world that existed long before the story started and would continue well after the end.

The interior walls of the town’s church have faded paintings. The storefronts are overstocked with distinct products. And each of the background characters is made with the same care as Geppetto (David Bradley) or the evil carnival owner Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz). This commitment to detail is further amplified by stop-motion animation’s ability to highlight real textures. Fabric, wood, and metal, all look incredibly realistic because they are real and it makes a difference in a contemporary panorama that is dominated by computer-animated films.

In addition to its stunning production design, Pinocchio stands out for its subtle performances, or rather, subtle puppetry. It’s quite common for stop-motion films to rely on wild and broad gestures to bring their characters to life. After all, these are friendlier to the process of taking thousands of photos of small puppets. Pinocchio, instead, takes its puppets through a more challenging route. The characters act in the same way a real human would. They have small facial expressions, nuanced body movements, and highly realistic interactions with their surroundings.

Achieving all this in stop-motion requires an incredible amount of planning and deliberation, but it greatly increases the immersion of the film. For instance, Geppetto’s movements as he builds a new son out of wood and his facial expressions when he realized Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) ran away with the carnival are truly impressive and make it easy to forget that we’e looking at a miniature figure.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – (Center) Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann). Cr: Netflix © 2022

Classic tale, new themes.

Ultimately, what makes this version of Pinocchio truly special is its beating heart. Despite having seen this story done countless times, Del Toro’s version manages to renovate this classic tale by adding rich, thematic elements and fascinating arcs for its characters that go against the grain. Geppetto’s backstory, for example, expands with details that make his story far more thought-provoking and memorable.

He’s presented as a model citizen and an artisanal perfectionist who falls deeply into grief after the death of his son, Carlo (also voiced by Gregory Mann). He makes Pinocchio in an attempt to get his son back, and once Pinocchio is given an immortal life, they clash because Geppetto wants to turn this restless wooden boy into a replica of Carlo. And by contrast, Pinocchio struggles to understand the meaning and value of a live that is purposefully short. How love doesn’t need to be perfect in order to be real. Despite its appearance and musical quality, this might be the first Pinocchio adaptation mainly geared toward young and old adults instead of children.

Even the historical backdrop of the setting ties into the film’s messages. It explores themes like authoritarianism, toxic masculinity, and hyper-individuality against the rise of fascism in Italy. Pinocchio’s quest to become a real boy happens as the world around him becomes more puppet-like, or controlled by tyrannical leaders. His village is controlled by Podestá (Ron Perlman), a fascist officer who makes sure everyone falls in line with the regime’s expectations of citizenship. Pinocchio’s naivety allows him to question this increasingly militaristic world, and in doing so, help liberate the people around him.

These thematic elements never make the film overtly convoluted or dense. In fact, it’s significantly less dark than other Del Toro films. Audiences confront heavy topics in a way that is still enjoyable and makes the movie suitable for all audiences, although I would not consider it a “children’s movie” per se and, when things indeed get dark, there are some surprisingly beautiful musical numbers scored by Alexandre Desplat with some lyrics written by Del Toro that will hopefully lighten the mood.

The bottom line.

Overall, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a heartwarming version of the story that infuses new life into a classic tale and reaffirms the power of animation in all its forms. Even the ones too many people tend to write off as dated or old-fashioned. This Pinocchio is anything but.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is now available to stream on Netflix. Watch the trailer here

Featured image courtesy of Netflix.

Pedro Luis Graterol

Based in Mexico, Pedro Graterol is the News editor for TV and Film of InBetweenDrafts. He is a Venezuelan political scientist, violist, and a nerd of all things pop culture. His legal signature includes Sonic The Hedgehog’s face.

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