Movie Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

You may think you know the story of Pinocchio about a father’s wish that magically brings a wooden boy to life. Made famous by Disney’s iconic pop culture saturated iteration of 1940, Guillermo del Toro’s version provides a much-needed refresh on the classic fairytale, based on the book ‘Pinocchio’ written by Carlo Collodi. Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson, the artful film features the voice talents of: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley and Gregory Mann.

Taking the central concept of a carpenter who crafts a wooden boy who comes to life, del Toro expands this heartwarming fantasy into a full-fledged adventure against the backdrop of World War II. Set in Italy, at the time of Mussolini’s tyrannical reign, even the small countryside towns were under the influence of the Axis powers. Blending religion and wartime unease, del Toro steeps Pinocchio with a real sense of place and time to counterbalance its strong fantasy element. Speaking to themes around abuse of power, the meaning of family and overcoming grief, Pinocchio has substance and heft.

Integrating del Toro’s aesthetic, this beautifully animated stop-motion feature film takes you to another world with its detailed visuals, using today’s technology to go well beyond the limits of traditional stop-motion. Echoing the Brothers Grimm, this fairytale has an inherent darkness and maturity, which filters through its creative choices around character design, mood and bittersweet storytelling. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth had direct contrasts between fantasy and war, the same can be said for Pinocchio, which while family-friendly tends toward nightmare.

pinocchio film

“Ts and Cs… Ts and smees.”

Allowing the animator’s decisions to inform the characters, they are voiced by an array of first-rate acting talents including: Christoph Waltz, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Finn Wolfhard and Tilda Swinton. Each bringing another dimension to their characters, they’re cast on their ability to enhance rather than specifically sell the film as name star voice talents.

This magical adventure may have a familiar kernel beneath it all but has a full spectrum of originality. Comparable with The House in terms of texture, tone and quality, it creates something fresh and fierce in the process. Injecting a musical element much like the Disney classic, using a Jiminy cricket type narrator to lace it altogether, the cheerful songs are not out of place, further enhanced by Pinocchio’s playful sense of humour.

Based on its fine ingredients, it seems ungrateful to criticize based on its strong, worthy and commendable effort. However, if one had to nitpick, Pinocchio while entertaining has a decidedly cool temperament. There are some emotionally powerful moments, but they don’t quite have the impact you’d expect from a film of this magnitude and quality. Then, while having gone under the microscope or perhaps sticking too closely to the source material, there are a few missteps that punctuate the overall tone. Still, Pinocchio is a vivid animated adventure and musical of the highest order, which makes for compelling viewing.

The bottom line: Mesmerising