This is a repost. This review was originally published on Dec. 12, 2022.
Every year, there seems to be a popular theme or plot device that is used in multiple movies. One could argue that this year was the year of the multiverse. But in the animation industry, it was the year of Pinocchio.
For some odd reason, there were three different retellings – none of which were related to each other. You had Disney’s “live-action” retelling – which like all Disney live-action remakes has no reason to exist besides money. You had Pinocchio: A True Story which was just…bad. And then you had Guillermo del Toro’s interpretation of the tale: Pinocchio.
And no contest, this version, which takes place in 1930s fascist Italy is the best of the bunch and one of the best films of the year.
The film was released on Netflix on Dec. 9. However, it did have a limited theatrical run. I wish that this wasn’t the case because everyone deserves to watch this film on the big screen. It was made for theaters…I was lucky enough to have a theater close by that was showing it. I couldn’t wait. And it was well worth the money.
After losing his son Carlo in a bombing during WWI – wood carver Geppetto falls into a deep depression. Years later, he builds a puppet from a tree that Carlo had planted. The puppet, named Pinocchio is bought to life by a spirit – finds himself in a world consumed by war – something he doesn’t understand.
As you all know, I am a sucker for stop-motion. All the work, all the intentionality put into it – it’s a really underappreciated medium. And the fact that del Toro, who usually works within live-action went this route and did it so well – needs to be acknowledged
Setting the movie in World War II era Italy – puts the whole story in an entirely new light. Pinocchio doesn’t have an overwhelming desire to become “a real boy” nor does the fact that his nose grows when he lies play a huge role. The setting turns Pinocchio into something desirable for the fascist dictatorship: a soldier who cannot die.
Everyone wants something from Pinocchio – they want him to be something: a son, a star, a soldier…But none of them let Pinocchio explore and figure out who he is, under his own terms.
The film explores themes of death, war, and what it means to be human.
Pinocchio takes full advantage of its setting – while still integrating magic and fantasy in a way that fits in context.
One thing about this film that gives it such ambiance is that it was co-written by Patrick MacHale, creator of Over the Garden Wall. Like I couldn’t have thought of a better co-writing partner. MacHale knows how to create and keep up a disturbing ambiance, in a way that’s frightening to adults and kids alike.
The addition of Carlo, Geppetto’s human son is one of the biggest changes to this version – and I think it’s an excellent choice. It makes Geppetto more sympathetic and human – he created Pinocchio as a way to try and cope with Carlo’s untimely and violent death. And it’s for this reason that the “Blue Fairy” called the Wood Sprite in this adaptation decides to bring Pinocchio to life.
Adding in the fact that the tree the puppet is made from is also significant, helps as well. It feels less random due to the fact, that this wasn’t just a man who wanted a child but never had one. This is a person feeling unbelievable grief and guilt. And at first, and for most of the movie, Gepetto doesn’t accept Pinocchio for the simple fact that he isn’t Carlo.
He didn’t ask for Pinocchio to be made alive – and Pinocchio only wants to please his father. Even though he can never be exactly what Gepetto wants. And it’s that desire which really drives the plot.
Changing the Story
Because there is such a heavy change in setting and messages to the story most people know (AKA the Disney version) – the plot also differs. Sure, Pinocchio still performs in a circus – though his motivations are different – but Count Volpe – who takes the place of the fox is also the movie’s main villain – alongside the Podesta, who wants to turn our protagonist into a soldier. He runs the film’s version of Pleasure Island — which is much different than you would expect.
It’s my favorite part of the movie – as it focuses more on the boys being introduced to war as a fun little game. And it really does a great job of showing Pinocchio and Candlewick’s (this film’s version of Lampwick) relationship and showing how in spite of everything they’re both just children – being manipulated by adults for their own means.
I love how all the characters in this film just feel very real. They aren’t exaggerated versions of morals and ideas. They’re all human, in their own way.
Pinocchio especially feels like a real boy throughout the film – always asking questions, getting into mischief (though not on purpose), and trying to win his father’s love. He’s not a naughty child who needs to be taught lessons. He isn’t something to be made an example of. Like his nose growing when he lies, is based on a tale Gepetto told Carlo – it’s not there to tell kids lying is bad.
I like this choice. I like a lot of the choices made in this film.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have my criticisms though.
It’s not that these aspects of the film are bad. I just thought they were weak. I would have loved to see more of Candlewick and Pinocchio’s relationship. It just kind of disappears after Pinocchio leaves the island and we never hear of him again.
This interpretation of the character was interesting and I honestly wish we got to see more of him.
And while the film isn’t a musical – there are a few diegetic songs performed. They’re very simple in terms of lyrics, and wouldn’t be out of place in a Disney movie. It’s a bit at odds with the darker tone of the rest of the film. I almost wish there had either been more songs, or none – to give Pinocchio a stronger sense of identity. But the songs that do occur in the film are important plot-wise and thematically speaking – so it’s hard to find real fault there.
What can I say except that this film is excellent. I only wish it could have been in theaters longer and not relegated to Netflix.
If you love animation, del Toro, Over the Garden Wall…or hell, cinema in any way shape, or form – you will enjoy Pinocchio.
And that’s the scoop.
Release Year: 2022
Length: 117 minutes
Producers: Guillermo del Toro, Lisa Henson, Gary Ungar, Alex Bulkley,Corey Campodonico
Directors: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Patrick McHale
Story By: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins