Arguably one of world’s most creative filmmakers around today, Guillermo del Toro has amazed audiences with such films as PAN’S LABYRINTH, which picked up three Academy Awards, and THE SHAPE OF WATER, which received 13 Oscar nominations – the most of any film at the 90th Academy Awards in 2018. That film took home four golden statuettes including two for del Toro for Best Director and Best Picture. Though his last film, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, didn’t fare very well at the box office, it was well received by critics and it still managed to garner four Oscar nominations. Now, del Toro has returned with perhaps his most ambitious film yet. He’s taken on the very familiar story of the puppet that wanted to be a real boy. GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (that’s the film’s official title) is neither a remake of the Disney animated classic from 1940 nor is it a live action adaptation. (That last one came out a few months ago and stars Tom Hanks. If you haven’t seen it yet, you haven’t missed anything.) This film is stop-motion animation and, true to del Toro form, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO goes back to the source – Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s fantasy novel, “The Adventures of Pinocchio” – for inspiration. Unlike Collodi’s story though, which is set at the time when the story was written, del Toro’s version begins during the Great War. A simple master wood carver, Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) lives in a Tuscan town with his young son, Carlo (Gregory Mann). Carlo is a devoted son but tragedy strikes and the boy is killed leaving Geppetto a broken man. Sometime later, he decides to create a wooden puppet named Pinocchio and, unknown to Geppetto, the Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) gives Pinocchio life. Unlike Carlo though, Pinocchio (also voiced by Mann) is wild and reckless, and is constantly disobeying Geppetto. Fortunately, Pinocchio has a bit of help getting himself onto the right path in life in the form of Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), who lives inside the puppet and acts as his conscience and guide. It’s a losing battle for the erudite Orthoptera though, as Pinocchio skips school on his first day and joins the circus run by Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), who sees the talking puppet as his newest star attraction. Though Geppetto tries to get Pinocchio back, there are other forces at play too, including Podestà (Ron Perlman), a fascist government official who wants to turn Pinocchio into a soldier. After an incident where Pinocchio gets hit by a truck, he meets Death (also voiced by Swinton), who informs him that he can’t die because he’s a puppet. She sends him back, telling him that the only way he can really die is if he becomes a real boy. It takes a few visits to Death before Pinocchio realises what he wants more than life itself.
GDT’S PINOCCHIO is absolutely stunning to look at. We’ve seen stop-motion before – SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE, ANOMALISA and ISLE OF DOGS are great examples – but del Toro and his co-director, Mark Gustafson (FANTASTIC MR. FOX), take the craft to new heights. The motion is so fluid that it’s hard to imagine all the painstaking hours that must have gone into manipulating each puppet ever so slightly and then filming the shot. The film also succeeds in telling this familiar story in a whole new light. That’s all well and good but GDT’S PINOCCHIO might not be suitable for the young’uns the way Disney’s animated PINOCCHIO is. For the kid that’s in all of us adults, the film is great, but this is not the film you want to put on the TV and plop your little one in front of for two hours. It’s scary, and Carlo’s death is just the beginning.
And this leads to the film’s big head-scratching problem. It’s a musical! In the midst of the bombs falling, fascists and other mayhem, there are some dime store Disney-esque numbers that are supposed to lighten the mood. They don’t and, even worse, they feel like they were tacked on because some suit felt that the movie was too dark. I honestly don’t know if that’s the case but the bottom line is that the songs are an unnecessary distraction… and they aren’t even good, which is rather surprising as they were written by two-time Oscar-winning composer, Alexandre Desplat (THE SHAPE OF WATER; THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL). To be fair, the film’s score, which Desplat also wrote, is as soaring as the story.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO is streaming now on Netflix. The songs notwithstanding, it’s an excellent film and one that is well worth watching. If you cried watching BAMBI, you’ll be a blubbering mess with this one too.
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