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Pinocchio

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‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ review: Stunning animation draws you into fantastic world

What does Guillermo del Toro bring to this classic tale?

This year marked the release of not one, not two, but three different versions of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. The first was Pinocchio: A True Story, an animated Russian film that got a lot of notoriety for its infamous English dub featuring Pauly Shore. The second was Robert Zemeckis’ live-action remake of Disney’s 1940 animated Pinocchio, continuing Disney’s trend of recycling their beloved animations with more visual noise. Whether or not those particular versions left an impression, they are nothing compared to what Guillermo Del Toro brings to Collodi’s story. 

Essentially a passion project for del Toro, his Pinocchio had been in development hell for years as no studios were willing to provide financing. Revived by Netflix, which seems to be the home for directors like Martin Scorsese and Michael Bay to make the kind of films that major studios would not go for, del Toro presents a stop-motion musical that does not shy away from the darkness of the period it’s depicting. 

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The film opens with the woodcarving Geppetto (David Bradley) living peacefully in Italy with his son Carlo (Gregory Mann) during the outbreak of World War I leading to a family tragedy. Years later, with Italy now governed by the National Fascist Party, the still-broken Geppetto carves a wooden boy with the hope he will have his son again. Magically brought to life, the wooden boy now known as Pinocchio (also voiced by Mann) hopes to live up to his father’s expectations. 

Considering the source material was published in 1883, transitioning the story to 1930s Fascist Italy feels like an extension of what del Toro’s exploration of fascism from The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. Granted, those two aforementioned films are directly aimed at adults while Pinocchio is one for the whole family, Still,  some will be surprised by how scary the film can be, not only from the well-designed creatures as you would expect from del Toro, but how monstrous humanity can be. 

From Ron Perlman’s fascist Podestà to Christoph Waltz’s ambitious Count Volpe, they are all about controlling the titular boy for either their selfish needs or their war-consuming country. But what the story is really about is imperfect fathers and imperfect sons with Geppetto learning to get over his grief and realizing that Pinocchio is not Carlo and given how spontaneous Pinocchio’s personality can be, it is his purity that gives everyone else an arc. The scenes between father and son bring so much warmth, bringing out the best between David Bradley and Gregory Mann. 

For how dark the film can get, it never feels like it talks down to the younger audience with del Toro not only understanding the youth as you can see from his previous films, but his collaboration with co-writer Patrick McHale, best known for his work on the animated series Adventure Time. The humor works for all ages, with a lot of it coming from Ewan McGregor’s Sebastian J. Cricket – also serving as the narrator – providing plenty of slapstick and comedic banter with the rest of the cast. 

Although this has been promoted as Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, that is not to discredit the work from co-director Mark Gustafson, who was the animation director on Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. As del Toro’s first foray into animation, there are times where you forget that you are watching animation with the camera always moving, while characters seen doing things in an imperfect manner that feels organic like you would see in live-action. A special shout-out to Gris Grimly, whose book illustrations inspired the character designs here, including Pinocchio himself that is a janky piece of wood that is loose, but inventive when he moves.

Pinocchio
‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ review: Stunning animation draws you into fantastic world
Pinocchio
After years in the making, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio was worth the wait as it is a breathtaking piece of stop-motion animation that is a first for the director, but also has all the elements to make this version of Carlo Collodi’s story his own.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Stunning stop-motion animation that, at times, you forget you are watching an animated piece.
A touching father-son story that is anchored by amazing vocal performances from David Bradley and Gregory Mann.
Able to balance the humor with themes of war and fascism...
...though some audiences may be shocked by the darkness throughout this family movie.
9.5
Great

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