- Movie Rating -

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

| December 10, 2022

What a lovely film.  What a joy.  What a relief to see a Pinocchio film done right in 2022.

Having my stomach still churning from Disney’s absurd live-action remake a few months ago, I must admit that I did not step into Guillermo del Toro’s new version with a lot of hope.  This story has been told, it’s been perfected, there’s nothing else that needs to be said here.  Walt Disney did that in 1940 and countless adaptations have fallen on their faces.  Del Toro on the other hand is the first filmmaker to wise up and reframe Collodi’s classic tale in a way that not only makes it feel new, but gives it a loving spirit and an emotional weight that is truly unexpected.  His is a wonderful film.

For a while, you’re not sure.  Del Toro’s movie opens on a note of intense melancholy, pulling back from the magical fairy tale elements and moving through a story that opens with notes of pain and loss that would be unbearable for your average toddler but this movie, you should know, is not for children.  Well, not little children.  Maybe kids around, say, ten or so.

We meet Geppetto (v. David Bradley) is a woodcarver in Mussolini’s pro-fascist Italy who prizes only one thing above his work: his son Carlo.  But, alas, the clouds of Italy’s war are gathering and in one swift and terrible moment, a bomber plane kills Carlo and Geppetto becomes a man of deep despair.  Unable to cull his grief, the woodcarver drunkenly builds a wooden boy in a feeble attempt to reclaim the son that he has lost.  And – voila! – a wood sprite (v. Tilda Swinton) brings the wooden boy to life.  She names him, of course, Pinocchio.

Here’s where things get interesting.  Pinocchio here steps away from the Disney version in several ways.  First, he is incomplete.  No paint, no details.  His design looks very Muppet-like (the effects were done by Henson’s studio) and he looks incomplete.  That speaks to his nature.  He’s a boy who know nothing and, over the course of his adventure, comes to mature and to learn right from wrong.  As we meet him, he is destructive in a way that he doesn’t understand the way of things.

That’s the magic of Pinocchio: his learning process.  By the time we get to the movie’s third act, we can see how far he has come as a person, and it is a wonder to behold.  We watch a character grow, change, learn, understand.  That’s the beauty of the storytelling.  The characters are reframed.  Geppetto is not a starry-eyed dreamer who wants a son.  He’s a man deeply affected by his loss, who has this magical being dropped into his life and deals with it on a practical level.

The Jiminy Cricket role is effective too.  Given his original name Sebastian and lovingly voiced by Ewan McGregor, he’s not so much Pinocchio’s conscience but his voice of reason.  He doesn’t impede the boy’s growth or even really try to guide him.  He’s along for the ride as our eyes and ears to the story.

Just as effective is the Wood Sprite who replaces the traditional Blue Fairy.  Her restrictions on Pinocchio are not just lessons of truth and good behavior.  Her stipulations on his mortality are tinged with lessons of selflessness that you don’t normally find in a film aimed at children.

And what about the children?  Well, this is a film that is often sad and very dark.  Many of the plotlines are not your average kiddie fare, particularly the fact that the movie takes place in Mussolini’s Italy (Pleasure Island has been replaced by a soldier youth training camp).  Normally such a jump in time and place are weary and frustrating, but here they are worked into the story very well, particularly when Pinocchio goes to work for the wicked Count Volpi (v. Christoph Waltz) and unknowingly begins performing pro-fascist musical numbers in his puppet show.

This movie is truly an adventure.  You see the growth of the main character through his harrowing experience and because the movie has a lot of heart and emotional notes, you find yourself with tears at the end.  The backhalf of the movie doesn’t go quite the way we expect.  It ends much in the same way that it began, with notes about grief and mortality and the passage of time.  Fitting for a movie that feels so timeless.  This is a wonderful film.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Kids