Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio Proves Timeless

This adaptation of Pinocchio presents itself as the children’s flick we didn’t know we needed. Just when you thought the whole genre was sunk after Disney’s own 2022 remake, del Toro reminds us that there is power in wonder, imagination, and good ol’ fashioned frights.

Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Producers: Guillermo del Toro, Gary Ungar, Alexander Bulkley, Corey Campodonico, Jason Lust, Lisa Henson, Melanie Coombs
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Patrick Hale
Cinematography: Frank Passingham
Editor: Ken Schretzmann, Holly Klein
Cast: Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, John Turturro
Runtime: 117 minutes
U.S. Studio/ Distributor: The Jim Henson Company, ShadowMachine, Double Dare You Productions; Netflix
U.S. Release Date: November 9, 2022

Helping del Toro achieve his goals is co-director Mark Gustafson, whose signature animation style is in full effect. Here, the claymation-esque approach serves the story well; it reflects the literal wooden nature of Pinocchio and the metaphorically wooden people with whom he interacts, whose prejudiced views limit their ability for growth. It is a dual-metaphor, of course. Pinocchio’s whole shtick is personal growth, after all!

Over the course of 117 minutes, we’re treated to that growth through high-stakes adventure and memorable characters, performed by an all-star cast. It’s to the film’s credits, however, that the famous voices behind the roles fade into the background. It is the characters themselves demand focus with sharp dialogue, witty jokes, and sumptuous art design. (Nevertheless, Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, and Christoph Waltz deserve recognition, along with Cate Blanchett – I mean, whatta powerhouse!)

Christoph Waltz voicing Count Volpe (right) with gleeful degeneracy.

While Gustafson socks an animated punch, his co-director brings his trademark flair to the production. Del Toro is known for his themes of religion, fear, and redemption and they are included in Pinocchio. Despite these ideas appearing throughout his filmography, they somehow never grow old. Such is del Toro’s eye for meticulousness. Even when treading familiar ground, he is able to present something new. Pinocchio itself is a well-worn fable but cast against the backdrop of 1930s Fascist Italy, it feels remarkably fresh.

It’s those Black Shirts and repressive sequences that bring the fear to the screen. Such frights may seem surface level to the kiddos watching, but it’s the keen-eyed adults who will observe deeper social anxieties at play. Repressive governments, widespread prejudice, and unchecked bullies are enhanced by darkness and thunderstorms. It’s the kind of atmosphere more children’s movies should embrace, allowing their impressionable young viewers to grapple with such heavy – yet vitally human – concepts as loss, love, challenges, and redemption.

“To grunt and sweat under a weary life; But that the dread of something after death; The undiscovered country from whose bourn; No traveler returns…” – Shakespeare, not Sebastian J. Cricket as much as that also seems probable.

Overall, Pinocchio shines as an exemplary film for adults and children, much like Tim Burton’s James and the Giant Peach or even del Toro’s own The Devil’s Backbone. While it is not flawless (the choice to voice Pinocchio and Geppetto with British accents is an odd one; And Pinocchio’s early naivety is borderline grating), it is nevertheless more than solid. Pinocchio demands inclusion in the ranks of favorite animated features.

by Vincent S. Hannam

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