2022 | PG | starring voices of Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Christoph Waltz | directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson | 1h 57m |
Parallel story inspiration is so common in Hollywood we take it for granted. The famous parallel stories of bugs, asteroids, white house sieges and people-hunting usually resulting in two studios banging up against each other for supremacy. However, in the last 2 years we’ve gotten a glimpse of a new kind of parallel story. First with Zack Snyder’s Justice League offering a comparison with Justice League and now with Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio remake up against Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio we’ve got two films that showcase the differences between what a studio does with a story and what a filmmaker inspired by creativity does with one.
After watching his son succumb to a tragic war-time accident, grief-stricken woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley) creates a puppet (Gregory Mann) that is brought to life by a fairy to cure his loneliness. Tasked with guiding the puppet to maturity is Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregory, doubling as narrator), but soon Pinocchio is pulled to the dark side by those that wish to use him, first a traveling carnival run by Count Volp (Christoph Waltz) and then the Italian military who conclude the puppet’s inability to die makes him an ideal soldier. Pinocchio goes on a series of adventures that will test his maturity and force him to chose between selfishness and heroism.
Guillermo del Toro’s take on Pinocchio is crafted in the broad outline of Carlo Collodi’s original story and yet it circles back around to the themes and important points in it’s own clever ways that makes it feel like the most faithful of this story’s many adaptations. This film is rich and sumptuous with details, everything that del Toro and co-director Mark Gustafson change, or bring back to the consciousness from Collodi’s story is all for the more interesting. It is visually gorgeous with the visionary filmmaker’s choice to craft it out of stop motion animation giving a film about woodcarving a perfectly poetic look. We’re having something of a stop-motion renaissance this year with Phil Tippet’s wild Mad God and Henry Selnick’s overcooked and tiresome Wendell and Wild and I hope it continues.
del Toro re-energizes this story into a classic children’s story theme – that the qualities that make you stand out, ostracized or weird, the qualities one might be ashamed of are the exact same qualities that make you special, that will end up saving the day in the end. His Pinocchio is not the cute, rounded off Disney creation, he’s a bizarre, slapped together puppet made of logs and stray screws. The back of his head looks like a literal tree trunk. His nose grows early and it’s not a nice, neat pole, but an obstruction of branches and leaves that gets sawed down by Geppetto. The pleasure island sequence is replaced with a carnival show for Benito Mussolini and a trip to a military camp. This Pinocchio is immature and obnoxious. He goes on a real and satisfying journey toward maturity, not on a quest to become a “real boy” as the Disney movie explicitly states from the start, but on a soul-affirming one to find what it means to be human. To sacrifice for the ones you love. To be a real boy thematically.
Like many del Toro movies, Pinocchio is darker take on the fairy tale. It’s set in Mussolini’s Italy during WWI and serious when exploring issues of grief and the inevitability of death. Melancholy and adult, it’s likely going to be too heavy for very young children. It is beautifully crafted stop motion animation with del Toro building both the Italian town, a Tim Burton-esque afterlife and a sea monster that replaces the Disney-story whale and restores the story to it’s original weirdness. Where the recent Disney adaptation side-stepped the “will he become a real boy?” question entirely, del Toro leans into the morality lesson of the film without being sappy or lecturing but honest. It’s thoughtful and smart, bringing it’s seemingly disparate pieces together with a Bang like an expertly told joke.
My only real big knock on the film is del Toro’s insistence on keeping Pinocchio a musical. I’m a fan of musicals, but this one is dreary and without a catchy tune in it. Despite Ewan McGregor’s excellent narration and singing voice, the film looses all momentum when it breaks into song.
Still, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a triumph. A beautiful work of animation, and a great, faithful adaptation that indulges and celebrates the story’s rougher edges. I loved it. One of the best movies of the year.