Hey, Disney, take notes – this is how you make a modernised Pinocchio film. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is the polar opposite to Disney’s shabby attempt from a couple of months ago. Where the mouse-house produced something uninspired and lazy, Guillermo del Toro delivers a final product that’s inventive, original and heartwarming.
The first thing to note about this film is the stylistically unique approach to its narrative, visual aesthetic and core themes. On one hand it’s dark and gritty, while on the other hand it’s beautifully heartwarming – combining the two forms a strong character- and relationship-focused story. The narrative is where this film really excels – hitting the main beats of the timeless story of Pinocchio, while incorporating plenty of fresh takes and unique angles throughout. I found myself wholly invested in the journey of this Pinocchio, and I had completely bought into the relationships he shares with those around him. Firstly, the relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto is heavily explored and strengthened in this version. So much so that I’d say it’s potentially the best exploration of that father-son relationship that’s ever been put to screen. The decision to focus more on Pinocchio and Geppetto’s connection does sacrifice Pinocchio’s connection to Sebastian J. Cricket, but it’s well worth the switch in focus.
This extended focus on Pinocchio and Geppetto is a conscious decision by Guillermo del Toro to make ‘fatherhood’ be a central theme within the story. It’s further strengthened by the presence of Podesta (Ron Perlman) and Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard), another father-son duo that develops in contrast to Pinocchio’s own relationship. Much of the emotional weight of the story is delivered through these father-son relationships, especially Geppetto’s personal journey. The narrative explores loss, love, disobedience, death and grief in quite considerable detail, putting a tragic yet even more uplifting spin on this Geppetto’s arc.
That’s not the only theme that plays a central role in this story – fascism is a hugely important element, one that only gets stronger as time goes on. The decision to set the story in Fascist Italy is where much of the darkness of the film really comes out – which is no surprise when you consider Mussolini’s authoritarian rule at that time. The complete removal of the ‘Pleasure Island’ act, replacing it with something more realistic and grounded is such a brilliant creative decision. The core message of what happens at Pleasure Island is still retained with this new setting, except here it’s made to be even more terrifying since it’s shockingly real.
As dark and gritty as the narrative gets, it’s also a visually beautiful story – one which begins at the truly phenomenal stop-motion animation. The intricacy, depth and attention to detail that fills every single shot is truly breathtaking. The animators have gone above and beyond to bring this very distinct world to life, ensuring every location feels lived in and drenched in realism. The character animation is smooth, stunning and impressively realistic, with a number of sequence that had me genuinely wondering how they pulled it off. I personally love stop-motion animation – it’s an art form that unfortunately doesn’t get widespread love and attention, but it really should. It’s one of the most impressive feats in filmmaking, one that should be featured more often. Take Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) for example – a spectacular stop-motion animated film with some world-class work from Laika animation studios.
Speaking of the animation, the character-design itself is so damn cool. The design of Pinocchio is great, as is the design of Dottore (John Turturro) and Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), but it’s the designs of both the Wood Sprite and Death (both played by Tilda Swinton) that had me awestruck. The intricacy in their designs makes them really stand out amongst the crowd as these wondrous otherworldly beings.
Guillermo del Toro’s distinct touch extends beyond just the dark and scary – incorporating some lightly humourous flair that almost exclusively begins and ends with Sebastian J. Cricket. The more subtle, darkly-comedic beats are the ones that work best, while a couple moments feel a bit more slapstick in nature and don’t gel as well with the overall tone. I’m not sure if they’re in here as a way to connect with a slightly younger audience, but I certainly didn’t need them.
In terms of the performances, I thought they were all very good, with David Bradley as Geppetto being the true standout. He’s the most emotionally complex character in the film, and Bradley does an awesome job at conveying every emotion through his voice. Gregory Mann is good as Pinocchio – he’s a great voice for the role and effectively captures the innocence of the character. Then there’s Ewan McGregor’s Sebastian J. Cricket. He has such a familiar voice that it took some time to see beyond it being Obi Wan Kenobi. But once I was able to, it became clear that the energy he brings to the role works really well.
In the end, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is an exceptional work of art and beautiful reimagining of the classic tale. It’s clear that this has been a lifelong passion project for the gothic horror writer/director, pouring his heart and soul into crafting a dark yet heartwarming story. Backed by awe-inspiring stop-motion animation and a narrative that’s fresh and inventive, while still respecting its source material, this is the only 2022 Pinocchio film worth watching.