A stop-motion masterpiece worthy of best animated feature. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinnochio should occupy the same space in cinema as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) and Mark Gustafson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) this stop-motion film follows the mischievous and disobedient adventures of Pinocchio, who is magically brought to life in order to mend the heart of a grieving woodcarver named Geppetto. Del Toro’s Pinocchio is set against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in 1940s Italy and explores the difference between a puppet that seeks to become human and humans that are manipulated like puppets.
There are many revisitations and re-imaginings of classic fairytales, but what makes Del Toro’s vision for Pinocchio unique is that the character is given a new arc and different themes are explored. This isn’t mining nostalgia, but rather divining meaning from the original text and then communicating that new interpretation in an original way.
Fans of the original story will recognize the familiar elements of a puppet boy, a cricket, a blue fairy, a sinister carnival, and getting swallowed by a giant fish. However, woven within this fairytale structure is the oppressive weight of fascism and the bittersweet impermanence of life.
When Geppetto creates Pinocchio in a drunken rage– directly homaging Frankenstein’s monster–you know this is no ordinary fairy tale. The film embraces the macabre elements and dark humor of the original text without getting too gruesome. The darker elements give emotional weight to the characters’ actions. However, this isn’t “creepy edgy” Pinocchio; actor Gregory Mann playing the puppet easily wins over the audience with his playful personality and sings with the voice of an angel.
Del Toro’s Pinocchio has elements I’ve truly missed from earlier animated films: scary monsters, dastardly villains, and razor-sharp satire. This, coupled with fantastic performances, meticulously designed characters and environments, make for a courageous story that the world needs to see.
It has taken over a decade for this incarnation to come to life and it will live on for many decades more. An auteur’s take on a classic story often highlights what makes that visionary director unique. Sometimes it takes a puppet to remind us of what it truly means to be alive.
Del Toro’s Pinocchio is now playing in select theaters and will be streaming on Netflix December 9th.