Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio Pushes Animation Into A New Direction

(L-R) Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) in Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. Photo credit: Netflix © 2022.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio takes the classic story everyone knows and moves it up a few decades by dropping it into Fascist Italy.

Before I dive into plot and such, let’s talk about the animation. Despite what some people might tell you otherwise, animation is film. It always has been and always will be. I delayed writing my review until after my second viewing of the new film. The film is even more impressive one when takes a look at the stupendous set design. I’m walking through the exhibit at MoMA and thinking to myself how impressive they are down to even the tiniest detail. I know that Disney made a live-action film but this film goes above and beyond in telling the classic story. The two films could not be more different in tone or look. Outside of the title and some characters, there is nothing else they have in common. But anyway, this is a film that pushes the boundaries for stop-motion animation into a new direction.

I’ve never read the original story but in reading through both the production notes and the Wiki page of Carlo Collodi’s story, I’m not surprised that the original is darker. Disney always finds a way to turn these classic fairy tales into a film that can appeal to younger children–for instance, The Original Bambi is an allegory for antisemitism. This film is more so for adults and maybe their older children. It has a PG rating so it’s not like all of the animated films with a G rating. There’s some darker imagery here. I mean, you have scenes set during World War I and then we flash-forward to WWII. Instead of the nightmarish sequence on Pleasure Island, they refashion it as a Fascist re-education youth camp in Fascist Italy. Instead of kids turning into donkeys, they have to prepare to fight in the war.

Screenwriters Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale refashion the story and give us a film that you could never see Disney making. The introduction to Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) comes later than one would expect. This is because the film sets up the story by introducing us to Geppetto (David Bradley) and his human son, Carlo (Gregory Mann). Carlo is the perfect Italian kid but it’s not a surprise to see Geppetto grow depressed after Carlo’s tragic death. Years later, Geppetto starts to carve a kid in Carlo’s image–only after Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor) had moved into his new home, a pine tree, and start writing his memoirs. Even after Geppetto prays for the pine boy to come to life, he doesn’t even recognize it. And even then, he wants Pinocchio to be Carlo.

This film gathers an all-star cast while placing them with a few newcomers. There’s a universe where Ewan McGregor’s Sebastian J. Cricket doesn’t have a large role. During the writing process, there was talk about killing off the character very early on in the film. I’m sorry but this is just unacceptable. After watching the film, it’s really unacceptable that they even gave thought to it! McGregor crushes the performance and adds so much comedy in how he voices the character. Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett voices Spazzatura because the character was the only voice role without an actor when she spoke with Guillermo about working on the film. Don’t let anybody tell you that there are no bad character roles. If it means being an Oscar-winner and voicing a monkey, so be it.

For my Jewish readership, I want to note that there are scenes here that take place inside of a church with the cross and all. My understanding is that the prohibition on entering a church sanctuary does not apply to watching films and television. Hopefully, I’m not wrong about this.

Audiences have never seen the likes of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and might never see something like this ever again.

DIRECTORS: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
SCREENWRITERS: Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale
CAST: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, with Christoph Waltz and Tilda Swinton

Netflix released Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio in theaters on November 9, 2022 and streaming on December 9, 2022. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.