Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – Film Review

Visionary Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro completes his decade long journey in reimagining the timeless fairy tale, Pinocchio.

In Italy at the height of the Great War, the elderly carpenter Gepetto (David Bradley) loses his young son when their village is unintentionally bombed. Planting a tree on his grave, Gepetto sinks into a deep depression for decades. Years later, the travelling Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewen McGregor) takes up residence within this tree.

One-night, Gepetto drunkenly chops down and crafts the tree into a grotesque ‘boy’ and passes out. A blue wood sprite (Tilda Swinton) taking pity on Gepetto brings the ‘boy’ to life dubbing him ‘Pinocchio’ (Gregory Mann) and tasking Sebastian to guide him.

From here on Pinocchio goes on many adventures and sees many threats. From the fiendish circus ringmaster Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) eager to use Pinocchio for personal gain, to the domineering Podestà (Ron Pearlman), a local government officer intent to use the boy as a propaganda tool. Through it all, Pinocchio learns his own nature and morality in this familiar tale retold against the backdrop of 1930s Fascist Italy.

Without a doubt, the main draw of this adaptation of Pinocchio would be the incredible stop motion animation on display. I’ve always been a fan of this style of animation, and it is impossible not to marvel at the amount of detail on screen whether it be major characters and sets often reused, or objects only shown briefly in a montage. Things like the wood grain on church pews or a three-legged dog wandering in the background, every frame of the film is packed with detail and heart. 

Guillermo del Toro by now is known for his visual flair and darkly comical style. His rendition of Pinocchio fits into this but at the same time still feeling very familiar. While I heard this film was not a remake but ‘closer to the book’, I can’t say that I agree. I found that narratively it has a lot more in common with the 1940 Disney classic than it does Carlo Collodi‘s 1883 novel.

I did enjoy the new underworld sections as Pinocchio learns to deal with his own twisted form of morality. As well, there are substitutions throughout the story such as the ‘Pleasure Island’ section being replaced with a fascist youth training camp. Del Toro‘s touch is undeniable, and his changes make this a much darker mature version of the story. But much of it feels very surface level and does little to shake up the now tried and tested formula. I found myself wondering more than once what purpose some alterations had beyond making the story more edgy.

Pinocchio‘s cast of voice actors are crucial in bringing their characters to life with such great effect. Bradley gives a wonderfully eccentric yet warm performance as Gepetto, far removed from his famous role as Filch in Harry Potter. The character of Podestà seems tailor made for del Toro regular Pearlman‘s booming voice. While Waltz, not a stranger to playing wormy villains, was similarly fitting for Count Volpe. Joining in the magic are many other name actors in roles much smaller than you’d expect to see them in. But my favourite would be Cate Blanchett as ‘Spazzatura‘, Count Volpe‘s mistreated performing monkey. Much of her dialogue being a series of “ooks” and “aks”.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is as darkly twisted as you would expect from the director. I was disappointed he didn’t do more to make his story wholly original compared to other adaptations. That said, with some of the best stop motion animation I’ve ever seen, I was enraptured from start to finish. I would easily consider this the best animated film of 2022.

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