Disney has released a new version of Pinocchio on its streaming service. But the more interesting movie about the wooden puppet who wants to become a real boy will come out in December.
Guillermo Del Toro’s stop-motion animation Pinocchio will be streamed on Netflix on December 9. Co-directed by Del Toro and Mark Gustafson, this film promises to have the double-weave of magic and terror that is often missing from Disney’s anodyne productions.
Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) best displays both the transformative power of parables and the unsettling nature of fairy tales. Made between Del Toro’s Hellboy films, Pan’s Labyrinth is a deeply moving union of spectacle and soul.
The Spanish-language production, which is available on Amazon Prime Video, is set in Fascist Spain in 1944 . Francisco Franco has been the country’s dictator for five years. He will stay in power until 1975, and his regime will inspire several filmmakers, from Victor Erice to Pedro Almodovar.
Like Erice’s sublime allegory The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Pan’s Labyrinth revolves around a young girl. Ofelia and her heavily pregnant mother join her new father, the cruel Army Captain Vidal, at a military camp. In the woods beyond the camp lurk rebels still holding out against Franco and a labyrinth with a faun and fairies visible only to Ofelia.
Pan’s Labyrinth moves seamlessly between Ofelia’s reality and the fantastical realm where she seeks refuge from her step-father’s tyranny and her mother’s precarious health. If Vidal is a monster in human form, a faceless spirit whom Ofelia meets is terrifying too. The sumptuous visual effects neither overwhelm the narrative nor distract from Vidal’s sadism.
Among the film’s themes is the power of cultural memory as a form of resistance. The past that totalitarianism seeks to wipe out survives in the magical forest, in Ofelia’s storybooks, and in the tune hummed by her cook, who is secretly helping the rebels.
Del Toro has used fantasy elements in several subsequent films, including the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (2017). Pan’s Labyrinth remains a high watermark in the career of a filmmaker who recognises the draw of fairy tales. They can be liberating but discomfiting too, filled with wonderment and unpredictable outcomes, as comforting as a mother’s touch and as frightening as a nightmare.