Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel Pinocchio, has been a source of many a film adaptation. Disney’s 1940 version is probably the most famous, although their recent remake by Robert Zemeckis is a pointless exercise. Now, merely months after that version, Academy award-wining director Guillermo del Toro has delivered a stop-motion animated film that takes the premise of the story and shaken it up to its very core. This is a very different tale of the puppet boy that will shock, surprise and delight. It’s one of this year’s finest animated features.
Geppetto is a gentle wood carver who dotes for his son, Carlo. The pair live a very happy and simple life until one day, a stray bomb hits the church that his beloved son is inside. Grief-ridden, Geppetto spends his time at his son’s grave until he decides to make a puppet that could replace the child he lost. Once completed, a spirit comes and gives the wooden boy life, and gives a cricket the responsibility to show him the right way in the world. However, the boy named Pinocchio is a curious thing and he gets involved with an evil showman, Count Volpe, who sees the opportunity of making money from the puppet without strings.
It’s fair to say that this isn’t the cute version of the tale that Disney created all those years ago. In fact, del Toro has produced an incredibly dark movie that some younger children may find too intense. The opening is a heart-felt explanation of the events leading to the passing of the young Carlo. If you thought the opening of Pixar’s Up was tough, you haven’t seen anything yet. even the design of Pinocchio feels somewhat uncomfortable to look at. A shabbily put together piece of wood with nails half hammered into its back, spindly arms and legs and a hole in the boy’s chest where the cricket uses as his home.
The journey that Pinocchio goes on, being seduced into show business by the sinister Count Volpe leads to Geppetto hunting for the boy he has made. Both in parallel as Pinocchio is forced to perform for Mussolini while the old man finds himself in the belly of a monster. Told you this wasn’t like previous versions.
Del Toro’s film covers deals with a variety of subjects, from grief to Fascism, littered with sadness, confusion and a search for happiness. He doesn’t feel the need to sugar-coat the tale. Setting it during World War II allows the director to place the characters into a world where paranoia lives and everyone could become a victim. The famous fairground scene from the Disney version is replaced by a training camp to join Mussolini’s army, gone are the brightly-lit colours and dream-like adventure for a grey, cold place where friends are against friends.
What brings the film its humanity is the voice talents on board. As Geppetto, David Bradley is perfect. A gentle, quietly-spoken man, he manages to grab your heart the moment you see him. Tilda Swinton is on double duty as the Spirit who brings Pinocchio to life, and as her sister, Death, who Pinocchio visits every time some horrible happens to him and he realises he is immortal. The biggest surprise is Cate Blanchett supplying the voice of Volpe’s monkey, consisting of a series of ape-like grunts and groans.
Guillermo’s del Toro’s Pinocchio is a masterclass of animated skills. You forget you are watching a stop-motion feature as you are drawn into this very different world of the wooden boy. It will amaze you, horrify you as well as somehow capture your very soul. It’s proves once again that del Toro is a master of the imagination and who can balance child-like wonder with political statement. If you loved Pan’s Labyrinth, then this will be right up your alley. If you want something different that the brightly-coloured empty animations around at the moment, then rush to see this.
5 out of 5
Director: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Starring: Ewen McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Burn Gorman, Finn Wolfhard, Tim Blake Nelson
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Patrick McHale and (based on the book “Pinocchio”) Carlo Collodi
Running Time: 117 mins
Release date: 25th November 2022
Netflix release: 9th December 2022