Directed by: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Premise: A stop motion animation adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s fantasy novel. Woodworker Geppetto (voice of David Bradley) creates a puppet of a boy. The puppet comes to life and goes on a series of adventures.
What Works: Pinocchio is a fairytale and stop motion animation is uniquely suited to tell this story. The charm and surreal quality of stop motion animation accommodates Pinocchio’s whimsical aspects in a way that live action cannot. This version of Pinocchio was co-written and co-directed by Guillermo del Toro and while the core story is the same, the material has been reimagined to fit the filmmaker’s characteristic style. This is a more mature version of Pinocchio. A prologue explains that Geppetto had a son who was killed during a World War I bombing incident. That backstory gives Geppetto a unique motive to create Pinocchio and it establishes a melancholy tone that pervades the movie. The setting is relocated to fascist Italy. That political backdrop gives this version of Pinocchio a very different subtext. Danger is real and immanent and Pinocchio’s aberrant existence puts him in danger. The characters are flawed and soulful. Geppetto is not an ideal father at first but he gradually learns to take responsibility for the boy he has created. Pinocchio is obnoxious when he first comes to life but he gradually learns to be less compulsive and to care for others. Both father and son grow into their roles and learn to take responsibility for themselves and for each other, giving this version of Pinocchio an emotional sophistication that has eluded some other versions of this story.
What Doesn’t: The Pinocchio story traces back to Carlo Collodi’s 1883 fantasy novel which has been adapted to film multiple times, most famously in Disney’s 1940 animated feature. Guillermo del Toro’s version of Pinocchio is its own story but the film draws quite a bit from Disney’s classic version, probably more so than from Collodi’s novel. There is enough that is new to justify this version (and it is certainly much better than Disney’s execrable 2022 remake) but whenever this Pinocchio borrows from Disney it suffers by comparison. The film breaks into song in a few places but these moments come across unsteady and halfhearted, as through the songs were unfinished drafts. The storytelling is episodic and relies on a number of coincidences. That’s true of most versions of Pinocchio but given that this movie reinvents so much of the material it’s strange that the filmmakers didn’t try to tighten the plot.
Disc extras: On Netflix.
Bottom Line: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio reimagines a familiar story in a way that brings a mostly fresh perspective to the material. The animation style and the downbeat story give this film a soulfulness that distinguishes it among other versions.
Episode: #931 (December 18, 2022)