Directors taking part in lifelong passion projects is nothing but a top property for them. That reality will come sooner when they get the awaited deserve fans have been waiting patiently for. With visionary Oscar-winner Guillermo Del Toro, he’d been waiting to get this project about Pinocchio for 15 years, living in development hell ever since, if this was new information. Now seeing the light of day, even when it was originally scheduled nearly a decade later, it shouldn’t be surprising that this animated re-telling of Carlo Collodi’s timeless story is an achievable piece of filmmaking.
After losing his beloved son Carlo in the 1930s Fascist Italy, woodcarver Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) still can’t shake the feeling he’s really gone, resorting to drinking at his gravesite. He chops down the pine tree he planted, which was inhabited by the small, blue Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor). He carves himself a wooden boy who’s then brought to life by the Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton), naming him Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann). He’s alive and navigates in a world he needs to learn a lot from; Sebastian agrees to look after the Young boy and knows what it truly means to be real.
If you’re thinking, “We have another movie about Pinocchio?” The answer is yes, and it’s absolutely needed at this time. Just a few months ago, Disney+ and Robert Zemeckis launched their remake of the classic animated masterpiece, and everyone who took a chance to watch it destroyed it. I might’ve been more average on it initially, but it was pretty crappy and unnecessary, to put it lightly (my review is on Film Yap RIGHT HERE). So there was no competition of which would be the better of the two. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, which was co-directed by Mark Gustafson, was the single animated film these my eyes were set on ever since it was finally being made. All I want out of this venison of the titular wooden boy is to be amazed and for this team to breathe new and emotional life within this tale, unlike what we’ve glimpsed recently. And it’s an effort that won’t go unnoticed in a great experience that I must watch again when it has Netflix.
Based on his fantasy background in this filmography, you can tell Del Toro and his team (including screenwriter Patrick McHale) wanted their take on the story would delve much darker and almost more mature for its target audience. It took those first ten minutes and broke my heart, just like the opening of Up. Del Toro and Gustafson tell this both thematically dark and full of love in keeping in line with any good adaptation we’ve seen, believing this world involves a talking wooden puppet.
Compared to other interpretations, I wasn’t expecting this to touch on specific themes regarding war, imperfect relationships between parents and children, the process of grief, and the one that got me the most, mortality. With the latter, Pinocchio can come back from the dead after dying a few times and it plays on the importance of what it means to be human and the time we are given to do what we can on Earth. And with Benito Mussolini’s war in the background, there’s no pleasure island. Instead, there’s a section where Pinocchio is trained to become a young soldier. You know when to appreciate Del Toro’s imaginative direction that he claims made him fall in love with the character when he was a child, as lighthearted as it appears set during the backdrop of pre-World War II along with the familiar plot threads with a few differences to feel refreshing enough to think back to Frankenstein.
Because of the breathtaking animation that ShadowMachine enabled to be seen throughout, this will be cherished for years to come and will come to life for many viewers. I’ve always had a soft spot for stop-motion animation since it’s a style we don’t often see anymore, but those are usually the ones that fascinate me the most. Everything you see here for the detailed design of the characters, from the various locations the directors build upon or even the ocean for visual flair, not only rivals Laika, but maybe the best film stop motion related in the past few years.
And it would only be an impressive film with a pretty talented cast to voice these characters to life. Gregory Mann does a phenomenal job as Pinocchio, where he’s able to make him almost unaware of what life is once he’s alive, but he becomes brave while on this journey. Luckily, he wasn’t as annoying as the Disney remake did with Benjamin Evan Ainsworth. He still captures that childlike innocence even when he’s being a brat (like wanting hot chocolate). Ewan McGregor always kills it with his voice work which made Sebastian J. Cricket, the film’s narrator too, all around perfect. But I was utterly blown away by David Bradley’s Geppetto, this father bringing the emotions as a man who sees Pinocchio as a burden who’s taken his son’s place. There are also a few names that surprised me while watching that I forgot were in this, including Christoph Waltz as the evil Count Volpe (think the Fox and Mangiafuoco into one person), Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Tilda Swinton, and even Cate Blanchett in a role I swear I thought was one character only to be shocked once I found out who she really played.
And I forgot walking in this is also a musical with original songs, which were quite delightful. Some were more memorable than most, but they, along with the score by Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, were a more meaningful win than I expected. Easily, the song everybody will remember is “Ciao Papa,” this sweet tune about imperfect fatherhood had to be listened to once I got home. There’s even a funny running gag about Sebastian getting interrupted when he’s about to sing.
Could younger kids love it? When I saw this in theaters, there were only three of us, one of which was a small boy, and I think he enjoyed it. But since it’s one of the more mature PG mares out there, some scenes can feel dragged out based on how it’s playing loose with a story, almost touching the length near the third act. Many awards conversations think this has a strong chance of getting nominated for Best Picture. We could see this become the fourth animated film to get in there, but I’m still determining. However, I can confidentially say this has a shot at claiming the Best Animated Feature statue, a rare feat for a non-Disney-related project to take home the prize.
It’s no secret Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a fantastic fantasy created by del Toro and Gustafson, and it’s a dark, whimsical, and original take on the beloved classic story. Everything from the incredibly crafted stop-motion animation to the voice cast, and the strong themes to resonate with after it’s over, you’d be silly not to find this incredible through every frame.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is now playing in select theaters and will stream on Netflix starting December 9. Runtime: 115 Minutes. Rated PG for dark thematic material, violence, peril, some rude humor and brief smoking. Studio: Netflix.