Film Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

By Matthew Moorcroft

Highest Recommendation

  • Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
  • Starring Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Tilda Swinton
  • PG

For some reason, 2022 has been the year of Pinocchio overload. Outside of this widely anticipated version from auteur Guillermo del Toro, there is also another animated version that earlier this year infamously starring Pauly Shore, as well as a live action Disney remake. And with so many famous versions of the classic story, I think it’s only fair that they save the best for last.

Unsurprisingly, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a triumph. It’s a visual feast for the eyes while also honing in on this particular director’s sensibilities wholeheartedly; it’s the first adaptation of the material in a while to feel this fresh and new, both artistically and thematically. It’s a ballsy adaptation for what it’s worth, changing the story from a fairy tale setting to one of 1930s Italy and asking the question of how that fundamentally alters the tale.

You all know the story at this point, though this version has several differences that are intrinsically tied to this telling. Geppetto is a carpenter who creates a wooden toy, and said wooden toy is brought to life by a fairy (or in this case a Wood Spirit) and learns valuable lessons about family, life, and being yourself. It’s a tried and true story for a reason, and smartly Del Toro’s version doesn’t really deviate from that central conceit too much. All of the major setpieces are there, albeit Del Toro-ized, given a treatment so bizarre and creative that it reminds you just who exactly made this version.

This is the base line level though, as Del Toro’s decision to also place this firmly in fascist, Mussolini Italy means the story takes on a more personal, openly political tone. Suddenly Pinocchio’s acts of small rebellion, done less out of spite and jealously here then simply acts of naïve curiosity and wonderment, are now anti-establishment, anti-fascist actions. And the absurdity of that is not lost on Del Toro, whose work has always toyed the line between fantastical surrealism and heavy realism, and while the fantasy shines through here it’s played rather straight in terms of cause and effect, leading to some fantastic sequences that go into genuinely unexpected territory for what is otherwise a family friendly feature.

Well, family friendly up to a point. Del Toro has made no qualms about the fact that he did not make the film necessarily for kids, and while kids should enjoy it just fine for it’s delightful visuals and fantastic music, there is a emotional complexity to the proceedings that is understated and yet wonderfully effective. Del Toro is one of our great empathetic filmmakers, having made his career off of empathize with “monsters” but here those sensibilities are brought to a character is just oozing with happiness and empathy himself, which means Del Toro can really lean into what makes his films great – unabashed sincerity.

Said sincerity isn’t just in the characters, but also it’s presentation which is nothing short of marvelous. Every frame of the film feels almost painstakingly handpainted over, and Alexandre Desplat’s majestic score sweeps in and out bringing the emotions to their highest of highs. No other animated film in quite some time, maybe since Into the Spider-Verse or maybe Soul, has been as fully immersive and boundary pushing like this; a genuine touchstone in the making for stop motion features going forward. It’s genuinely a shame that Netflix is dumping this on their service as it deserves the full theatrical treatment just to experience it’s sound and colours alone.

And if anything, the only thing you should take away from this is that Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, for everything amazing that it does, also stands as a perfect example of the growing “animation is cinema” movement. It’s just as much a work of art as the best of the live action fare coming out – a work that is equally as gonzo and audacious as it is tender and loving. Wonderfully realized.

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