Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio arrived on Netflix in December a few months after Robert Zemeckis’s Disney production. While Zemeckis’s adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio combined animation with live action, del Toro’s long-gestating project is entirely animated.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio has been scooping up awards in the animation category. The 117-minute animated musical is considered a shoo-in at the Oscars, where its competitors include Turning Red and Puss in Boots. Despite bearing the name of a powerful filmmaker, the movie has actually been co-directed by del Toro and Mark Gustafson.
The screenplay, by del Toro and Patrick McHale, brings a centuries-old story into the present. The story of a wooden puppet that comes alive is set against the backdrop of war and fascism in Italy. The film’s resonance with the present in Europe as well as America, which are grappling with the rise of far-Right forces as well as the fallout of Russia’s war on Ukraine, cannot be overstated.
Master woodcarver Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) loses his beloved son during World War I. Years later, during World War II, Geppetto carves a marionette in his son’s likeness. A forest spirit (voiced by Tilda Swinton) breathes life into the puppet, whom she christens Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann).
The talking cricket Sebastian (voiced by Ewan McGregor) keeps an eye on Pinocchio, who is innocent to the point of being clueless, and provides the voiceover that link Pinocchio’s various escapades. These include Pinocchio’s entanglement with the impresario Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz) and a government official who (voiced by Ron Perlman) who sees in Pinocchio the perfect Fascist foot soldier.
The film inventively expands its source material to include references to the limits of Frankensteinean meddling with nature, Italy’s experience with dictatorship, and the impact of war on children. There’s an existential element to Pinocchio’s dilemma of being trapped between humanity and magic: he is alive but also can never be human enough for Geppetto.
The gorgeously animated film has a milder version of the unsettling visuals that characterised Pan’s Labyrinth, one of del Toro’s most celebrated films. Filled with musical interludes and a sense of mischief, del Toro’s version of a beloved fairy tale is entertaining enough so as not to spook the Oscar voters.
‘Pinocchio’ review: Impressive imagery but a sense of wonder is missing