Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

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Directed by: Guillermo del Toro & Mark Gustafson

Written by: Guillermo del Toro & Patrick McHale

Starring: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman

Rating: [4/5]

One would think a story can only be told so many times before it becomes absolutely pointless to get excited about another retelling. This becomes especially true when the story in question does not carry that much intrigue to begin with. However, when you have the brilliant mind of Guillermo Del Toro wanting to take on the project in earnest then sign me up and this feature film certainly rewards us in producing the best adaptation of Pinocchio ever done. 

Esteemed carpenter, Geppetto (David Bradley) has a son he loves with all of his heart but tragically loses him as a casualty during World War I. Absolutely distraught at the loss of the one light in his life, he gets granted another chance at having a son but he’s made of wood. Named Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) the little wooden boy tries to gain the acceptance of Geppetto as his father. 

Admittedly, when Guillermo Del Toro announced he was taking on a Pinnochhio project, I mourned for the film he would have done instead of yet another telling of this tale. But with what this film ended up becoming, it proved me completely wrong as he takes a story that has been overdone at this point and conjures together something absolutely unique and magical. The story of Pinnochio has a level of darkness to it, especially when looking at the original Disney animated film, but none more than the one seen in this film. Taking place in a very specific point in time in history, namely World War I, this film gets grounded even with it being a whimsically magical tale as well. 

Not only does World War I in Italy serve as a backdrop for this film, but it demonstrates the rise of fascism in the country and how it gets embedded in little children. Enlisting Pinocchio to additionally be an audience surrogate to this exploration of fascism allows us to see first-hand what it looks like to indoctrinate children at such a young age into these dangerous ideals. Where fighting and killing come naturally as they might have to go to war for the causes they see as just. Something incredibly mature to have in a story kids might have an interest in seeing. It all makes sense why Del Toro would be so interested in telling this iteration of the story and the magic of it works so well. 

The sheer optimism Pinocchio expresses in contrast with the darker world he inhabits allows him to be a shining light amongst the dangers surrounding him. He needs to contend with a dangerous carnival leader, the fascist Italian military, and even the next life as he learns the meaning of death and how it applies to him as a wooden little boy. Quite the unique set of circumstances that come his way and it’s funny how he just smiles through it all with his unwavering happiness.

Stop-motion animation always has this special factor to it when compared to other facets because of the sheer amount of work that goes into crafting it. The hours and care that go into the process show a painstaking amount of detail and it’s no different with this film in the beauty on display. A wonderful collaboration of artists that allows every passing minute in the film to be one that leaves so much for the eyes to feast on. Looking at these sets and how they converge on the characters show a harmful world and lived-in. The animation work on Geppetto alone is absolutely astounding in how it captures the details of emotion on his face and the man certainly goes through a lot in that regard in the film. The animation makes it all so seamless, which proves once again how movies can be magic, which this film embodies at its core. 

A surprising aspect of this feature was the use of music as it employs several musical sequences where Pinocchio sings about his feelings. Some felt unnecessary while others like “Ciao Papa” were absolutely beautiful in defining the emotions of where the story lied and that remain in my head to this day. The same could be said about the score by Alexandre Desplat. All of it carries his trademark as it wonderfully flows throughout the feature. It carries a sense of melancholy throughout, which matches the overall tone of the film and it absolutely shines. 

With the beautiful and jovial film received here, we can definitely say that no more Pinocchio films need to get made. It has everything one could want and it provides such a lovely viewing experience as it shows in all of the craft elements how much love was poured into this feature. The results show something undeniably well-made and embodying what makes animation an incredible medium of film that should be relegated to be just for children.

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