There have been many instances of competing movies telling similar stories in the same year, but rare is the time when two movies try to tell their version of the exact same story. A few months ago, Disney released a “live action” version of their classic Pinocchio, an unimaginative, soulless film that should have never seen the light of day. Now, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio has come to save the day, bringing an allegorical story that has much more depth to it.
Co-directed by Del Toro and Claymation legend Mark Gustafson, and co-written by Del Toro and Adventure Time’s Patrick McHale, the basics of the film will be familiar. The wood toymaker Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) creates a wooden boy soon dubbed Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) who is looked over by a cricket, this time called Sebastian (Ewan McGregor). Pinocchio is brought to “life” by a blue fairy named Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), and Pinocchio soon causes all sorts of trouble for himself and everyone else.
But instead of going straight into that story, Del Toro and his team take the time to fill in some blanks about Geppetto’s life and give some meaning to his wooden creation. An opening sequence showing a tragic backstory sets the mood for the film, one that is serious while not being overwhelmingly dark.
Inspired by but not beholden to Carlo Collodi’s original fantasy novel, the film is a lively and yet somber adventure story, with Pinocchio’s impetuous nature leading to him getting in a lot of sticky situations. Del Toro has set the film in Italy during World War II, referencing real-world figures like Nazis and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to ground the often-fantastical story.
As the film goes along, the idea of whether or not Pinocchio is “alive” is confronted in a unique way, and also juxtaposed with actual life-and-death moments that go right to the edge of the film’s PG rating. While still appropriate for older elementary-aged kids, it is unmistakably a Del Toro movie, with creepy creatures, storylines, and more that make it much more than just something aimed at children.
The stop-motion animation, assisted by the Jim Henson Company, is a wonder to behold for a variety of reasons. The flow of movement is astonishing, and a testament to the level of detail and time spent perfecting every moment by the entire filmmaking team. The characters are clearly made of clay, and yet they quickly become believable as living entities, a fun comparison to the story of Pinocchio himself.
While the film has stars like McGregor, Blanchett, and Christoph Waltz, none of them are showcased in ways where their celebrity overwhelms their character. Geppetto and Pinocchio are played by lesser-known people, allowing them to be interesting just for their voice talent, and not a pre-conceived notion of them.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is by far the superior version of the story to come out in 2022, returning the heart to the tale that is so clearly needed. With just enough off-the-wall elements and a style that’s all its own, the film from Netflix may just be a contender for best animated feature at next year’s Oscars.
Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio debuts on Netflix on December 9.