— by WILLIAM STERR —
This is not your grandfather’s Pinocchio. Nor is it Walt Disney’s 2022 live-action version. This one is courtesy of the incredible imagination of Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican director/writer who gave us the Oscar winning “The Shape of Water,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and many other bizarre and fascinating films.
Both the Disney Company and del Toro versions took the original tale from the 1883 novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Italian writer Carlo Collodi. His story had many more episodes and characters than any of the numerous films based upon it over the years.
In the 1940 Disney animated version, Pinocchio actually looks like a real boy from the beginning with only a few puppet attributes – Walt didn’t like the more puppet-like renditions his animators came up with. The talking cricket who serves as the puppet’s moral adviser also bore little resemblance to a real cricket. 1n 2022 Disney released a “live action” version starring Tom Hanks as Geppetto, Pinocchio’s carver and father, but the treatment of Pinocchio, the Cricket and the other “Disneyfied” characters is the same.
However, we are here to discuss del Toro’s 2022 “Pinocchio,” a stop-motion animation released only months after the second Disney version. It is very different indeed.
Del Toro sticks to a truncated version of the original story, but, as he mentioned in an interview, ALL the characters are puppets. True, but then all Disney’s characters in the original version were animated, and besides, delToro has only his Pinocchio looking like a puppet. He is a crude puppet carved by Geppetto in a drunken rage. This is actually the more important departure. Del Toro has characters that act like real people, with real pain, longing, rage, greed, hatred, love – the gamut of human emotions – expressed by smooth stop-action that makes you realize these are real people, not two-dimensional characters.
When Pinocchio is granted life by a very non-fairy looking creature (described as a wood sprite) after Geppetto has passed out on the floor of his cottage we know we are in del Toto’s world, where warmth and affection are often housed in grotesqueries. The now living Pinocchio is a newborn, joyously exploring his new world and leaving chaos and destruction in his wake. What parent of a toddler has not experienced that?
The cricket has not been forgotten – and aside from a moustache, he looks like a cricket, but acts like a frustrated writer. The wood sprite tasks him with teaching the puppet to be honest and obedient. These are things Geppetto wants as well, but is no longer capable of instilling in Pinocchio because of the old man’s many long years of grief and misanthropy brought on by the loss of his own “real boy.” The result of this conflict is Pinocchio’s decision to leave him and go out into the world.
As in earlier versions the living puppet runs afoul of a scheming Carnival owner who sees the little wooden-head as his ticket to wealth and fame. Meanwhile, a contrite Geppetto is seeking Pinocchio, always one step behind.
You may recall the episode in the story where Pinocchio goes to a place where kids run wild but become donkeys then sold to farmers as beast of burden. Here del Toro has cleverly advanced the time period to that of fascist Italy, just at the outbreak of WWII. This redirection into fascism echoes the setting of his “Pan’s Labyrinth,” where his characters were enmeshed with the fascists of civil-war Spain. Here the children are brainwashed into patriotic donkeys, soon to become soldiers and fight for the glory of Il Duce’.
Eventually Pinocchio flees the warfare, an attempted murder by burning at the stake (instead of being hung as in Collodi’s original) and ends up on the sea just in time to be swallowed by the monstrous sea creature which earlier devoured Geppetto and the cricket. There is another throwback here: this time the creature is a spitting image of the one used by Terry Gilliam in the wonderful “Adventures of Baron Munchhausen.”
There is of course much more to the story, told in exquisite detail with the best stop-action work I’ve ever seen. If anything, there is too much action in a few scenes – the eye doesn’t know where to look next. But doesn’t that mean you’ll need to enjoy it again?
This is a musical by the way, but aside from the charming “Ciao Papa” there is nothing memorable.
Some have accused the film makers of creating too dark a rendition. Del Toro demurs, claiming it is a film of brightness. Both points of view are correct. The story is inherently one of the darker elements of human nature, constantly at odds with what we all wish to become. But it is also bright in that lessons ARE learned all around – including by old Geppetto – and even a wooden-head can become a real boy through love and sacrifice. If a puppet can do that, so can any of us.
Directors: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Writers : Guillermo del Toro, Patrick McxHale
Cinematography: Frank Passingham
Editors : Holly Klein, Ken Schretzmann
Music: Alexandre’ Desplat
Cricket: Ewan McGregor
Pinocchio: Gregory Mann
Geppetto: David Bradley
Podesta: Ron Perlman
Count Volpe: Christoph Waltz
Wood Sprite: Tilda Swindon
Runtime: One hour, 57 minutes
Availability: In theaters, Netflix
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