GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO movie review

PINOCCHIO is directed by Guillermo del Toro. The film features the voices of Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, and Tilda Swinton.

This 2022 stop-motion animated film is not to be confused with the other 2022 PINOCCHIO film, a live-action Disney adaptation/remake directed by Robert Zemeckis. Both films are based on the original story by Carlo Collodi.

Woodcutter Geppetto is enjoying life with his son Carlo, until Carlo is killed by planes dropping bombs in Italy during the First World War. Distraught with the loss of his child, Geppetto grows distant from his fellow village residents, eventually carving a wooden boy intended to serve as a replacement for Carlo. A visit from a spirit brings the child to life, but he quickly becomes a misguided terror around town, facing obstacles that include a unscrupulous ringmaster, a rising fascist dictatorship, and a monstrous sea creature. Will Geppetto be able to find and make up with his creation?

There will always be adaptations of Carlo Collodi’s PINOCCHIO. That’s for certain. This is the second one to come out in 2022 alone, as well as the second to be released to a streaming service (Disney’s went to Disney+, this one is going to Netflix). Guillermo del Toro is certainly an iconic filmmaker, not to mention unpredictable. From PAN’S LABYRINTH and HELLBOY to THE SHAPE OF WATER (the latter of which winning the Academy Award for Best Picture), no one ever truly knows what this guy will do next. Seeing him put his own spin on Collodi’s classic tale was something I was very eager for. I’m happy to say that this take on PINOCCHIO is easily superior to Zemeckis’ film remake/adaptation. While many elements feel familiar, del Toro puts his own spin on the tale. The result is a pleasant surprise that’s darker and more mature than many other versions of this story, though with a PG rating, it’s still appropriate for most children.

Del Toro’s movie has united a solid voice cast, including Ewan McGregor as Pinocchio’s cricket conscience, Tilda Swinton as two sibling sprits of life and death, Christoph Waltz as the ringmaster, and a strong assortment of additional players that includes John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, and Tim Blake Nelson. Everyone is perfectly cast, and even the unknown players do a great job in their roles.

Del Toro’s greatest strength is his ability to make the story his own. Disney’s PINOCCHIO had a cute little boy made of wood who goes on to become a real boy, with his appearance not radically changing. Del Toro’s version of the character is a grotesque creation that I can’t quite decide is cute or ugly. Trips to Pleasure Island are replaced with the element of Mussolini’s fascist regime on the rise in the years leading up to World War II (Mussolini is depicted as a character in one scene of the film, but is depicted in a bumbling, silly manner, and the emphasis of said scene is to humiliate and enrage him; he’s not glorified in any way).

I also appreciate the way this version of the story actually took the time to flesh out Geppetto’s son, giving us some time with him so that we better understand the woodcarver’s sorrow at his loss; this isn’t necessary the first version of the story I’ve experienced that does this to some degree, but del Toro does it more effectively than most. Even the other characters and elements don’t feel like retreads of the other takes on this tale; this is helped largely by setting the film in a later time period. And unlike Disney, del Toro’s version of PINOCCHIO isn’t afraid to mix up the status quo and not give its audience an obligatory “happily-ever-after” ending. At no point does it feel like he’s copying any other version of the story, yet he retains the heart, emotion, humor, and unique elements this tale requires, while throwing in a few elements of his own.

I could nitpick elements of this take on PINOCCHIO, but those nitpicks are minor and don’t impact the strength of the final product. Del Toro isn’t exactly the first person I’d expect to adapt this story given that many of his forays into the world of cinema are R-rated films, but his version of PINOCCHIO is certainly the better of the two released this year. Highly recommended!


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