Runtime: 114 minutes
Directors: Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Writers: Guillermo Del Toro, Patrick McHale, and Matthew Robbins
Starring: Gregory Mann, David Bradley, Ewan McGregor, Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, Finn Wolfhard, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton
By Calum Cooper
Strangely enough, this is the third Pinocchio film we’ve had in 2022. This year also saw Robert Zemeckis’ live-action remake of the Disney classic, and the direct-to-DVD feature “Pinocchio: A True Story” (2022). The former was horrendous even by Disney live-action remake standards, while the latter was memed to death thanks to Pauly Shore. It’s a funny coincidence more than anything else, but it is so refreshing to say that this third interpretation of the fairy tale is not just better – it is absolutely miraculous! In fact, this one may well be the best animated film of the year!
“Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio” (2022) distinguishes itself from its predecessors via its directorial style, and its choice of presentation. Captured through stop motion claymation, it recounts the story we all know so well, with a few twists. After the death of his young son, woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley) decides to carve a puppet to cope with his grief. During the night, a spirit (Tilda Swinton) brings the puppet to life, naming him Pinocchio (Gregory Mann). With the help of Geppetto, and their friend Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), a cricket who lives in Pinocchio’s heart, Pinocchio vows to interact with the world. Yet, as Geppetto warns Pinocchio, the world is not always a benign place.
More than anything, this adaptation is reminiscent of Del Toro’s masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006). Both are fairy tales with much darker edges than most cinematic translations. While certainly not as graphic as “Pan’s Labyrinth”, this film similarly features a blending of genres, and a somewhat sinister atmosphere amidst the wonder. Frank Passingham’s cinematography blends well with the set pieces and clay character models, creating a gothic feel to the world on screen. Amongst the magic of a wooden boy coming to life to help a heartbroken man is also a world inhabited by grief, tyranny, war and selfishness. The rough shapes and bizarre designs that make the characters suggest an internal incompleteness from characters such Geppetto and Pinocchio himself, or a wickedness to those such as the antagonist of Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz).
The story takes place in Italy, the homeland of the original tale. Yet it takes place during Mussolini’s Italy, which enhances the negative connotations of the film’s darker atmosphere and visuals. One character, Podesta (Ron Perlman) serves as a constant reminder of the reality based horrors surrounding the characters, with his role being a Gestapo-esque authority figure in Geppetto’s life. Again, in a striking similarity to “Pan’s Labyrinth”, the potential and brightness of fantasy is juxtaposed, and even occasionally snuffed out, by the suffering and fear caused by ongoing fascism. For all of the film’s quirky humour, and Pinocchio’s youthful zest for life, the looming presence of subjugation, avarice and even death are never far away.
“Call it a hot take if you must, but “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio” might actually be the best Pinocchio adaptation out there, and that’s including the 1940 Disney classic.”
Alexandre Desplat‘s riveting score captures the anxieties and terror of such prospects hauntingly. Yet it also hints towards the inherent joy life brings, whether unencumbered by those lingering fears or in spite of them. Even though suffering is often an unfortunately large piece of life, it is because there is suffering there is also value. This film recognises that life is a precious thing; something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. That theme was at the very heart of the original fairy tale. Del Toro and his team capture this in spades, tapping into the subtle existentialism of its story in a move that’s so quintessentially Del Toro to emphasise the brightness and wonder of its messages even more. The proverbs laced into the dialogue and songs resonate with the lessons of the story, revelling in both the light and the dark.
Building upon Del Toro’s unique touch, the film executes all of its various components with masterful precision. The stop motion is so flawless that it’s worthy of Laika or Aardman. The visuals are utterly dazzling, complementing the character and set models, and imbuing them with greater euphoria or melancholy given the scene. Whether haunting or gorgeous, it is one of the best looking films of the year, with the roughness enhancing the core themes. Some sets look as though they belong in horror movies, while others capture beauty and pathos with such detail that just the very look of them threaten to bring tears to the eyes. The film is a visual carnival of immaculate creativity.
The voice acting injects even more emotion into the picture. This is one of David Bradley’s greatest performances. The way in which he portrays the grief and regret that lingers in Geppetto’s heart is astounding, especially as Geppetto’s loss for the boy he is mourning gradually transforms into a newfound love for the boy he has created. Newcomer Gregory Mann has the charm and vocal range to make us fall in love with the wooden boy whose lies cause his nose to grow all over again. Tilda Swinton provides a singularly ominous performance as two mystical entities whose presence greatly inform the paths that Pinocchio must take, in order to discover the meaning of selflessness. Meanwhile, talents such as Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, and Cate Blanchett all provide a large spectrum of warmness and grit in their roles. Add them all up and we get a film as sincerely heartfelt as it is mature and poignant. The final 15 minutes alone provide some of the most thrilling, and emotionally charged storytelling of any animation, even without all of the preceding grandeur. It is a family picture that’ll unease, fascinate and ultimately captivate audiences of all ages.
Call it a hot take if you must, but “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio” might actually be the best Pinocchio adaptation out there, and that’s including the 1940 Disney classic. It’s certainly Del Toro’s best since “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Fairy tales have always had elements of darkness, and Del Toro’s unparalleled vision captures this without diminishing the wonder or heart of the original tale. It is beautifully animated, boldly directed, and utterly magical in its craft, themes, and storytelling. All of this and more convinces me that this is a future classic in the making – a film that children and adults will watch again and again for generations to come. It truly is something special!