Film Review of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

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Netflix

The promotional poster for the Netflix film.

2022 saw the release of three film adaptations of Carlo Collodi’s legendary story, Pinocchio. All three films display a drastic range of quality, but the third film released was the culmination of fifteen years caught in a ruthless cycle of being approached and rejected by countless studios and executives because of the intended art form it would be presented in. After being acquired and approved by Netflix, this titanic stop motion production was finally delivered by one of this generation’s greatest filmmakers. This is Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

The film is gorgeous. Every minute detail, scratch, indent, the color palette, the lighting, shot composition and design choice all come together to produce a particularly beautiful incarnation of the story. The artistry of every frame, the gorgeous soundtrack composed by Alexandre Dasplat, the impeccable voice work… it is all something to behold. Del Toro’s vision of this movie is untouched by studios. It is raw, tangible, and you can feel it.

Pinocchio is hand-made, he is a puppet, a wooden sculpture brought to life. This is one of the only versions of Pinocchio where he feels real, alive, breathing. The character designs are imperfect, making them feel more human-like, down to the dirt in Geppetto’s nails, or unpolished like Pinocchio’s rough jagged features and the nails sticking out of his sides. The imperfections add depth, complexities to the film. 

The film’s marketing was based on the campaign of “you may think you know the story of the wooden boy, but you do not. Not this version. Unlike Collodi’s original story taking place in Italy in the 1800’s, Guillermo del Toro’s film is set during the 1900’s, when Italy was governed by the National Fascist Party under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. The shadow of World War II looms large over the story with death being a constant reality. It has created a suffocating environment for all people. Instead of Pinnochio being taken with a group of children to a wonderland free from strict rules and regulations, the children are taken to military camps where they will train to fight for Italy in the War.

The film is not without its darkness. There are naval mines floating endlessly in the ocean, and stealth bombers patrolling the skies. But what makes Del Toro’s films so magnificent is he understands that the only way to appreciate the light that life brings is through overcoming its darkness. You cannot have one without the other. 

The story subverts what most people know about Pinocchio: Instead of becoming a real boy through a dramatic transformation, the story expresses Pinocchio just living like a real boy, experiencing life through his curiosity, and the guidance of his loved ones. The story emphasizes the role of family in society, specifically with the fatherhood of Master Gepetto; he is struggling with the loss of his beloved son, and in a fit of drunken rage, he constructs a wooden boy who is given life. Gepetto initially rejects Pinocchio as he is out of control and disobedient unlike his original son. The death of Geppetto’s son permeates the bond he has with Pinocchio, and through the course of the film, he learns that Pinocchio will never be like his original son, but it does not mean he is not as deserving of love and affection. . The story progresses on the teachings of Pinocchio’s different father figures, Master Gepetto, Sebastian J. Cricket, the Ring-Master, and the fascist military leader provide beneficial lessons on how (or how not to) to approach life and live it fully. 

Throughout the movie, the question of Pinocchio’s eventual death is addressed, given that he was given life in such a mystical way. The conclusion of the movie answers this question with a simple lesson: Make the most of life.  Pinocchio understands why every life is precious and has healed from the pain of death. The immortality granted from his creation is not for his eternal suffering, but to humble himself for life, and to cherish it. For “what happens, happens. And then, we are gone.”

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is the director’s animation debut and is hailed by many as a stop motion masterpiece, a beautiful fresh take on a reiterated story, providing new insights and a different perspective on how we should live our lives. This film is an endeavor of love, and a stand, a warning to anyone who considers animation as a strict genre for a strict demographic. Del Toro’s Pinocchio gives animation, and stop motion the respect it deserves, as an art form. It’s visually stunning as it is narratively creative. The portrayal of fatherhood and the bond a parent has with their child is immaculate. This film succeeds at making the viewer feel the warmth and comfort of love, showing  that light can be found during the darkest moments. 

While most people know the Pinocchio story from the 1940 Disney Classic, it will not be surprising to see people down the line hailing this as the definitive adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s classic, and possibly the best animated feature of 2022. This film is a must watch for anyone. It is available exclusively on Netflix as of now, along with behind the scenes featurettes that give insights on how this massive project was made, and the sheer scale of the production.