Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a beautiful, layered, stop-motion masterpiece. The film is filled with incredible performances and imbued with the director’s signature style in a retelling that is both poignant and heartwarming.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio tells the classic story of the wooden boy and his father in a uniquely powerful way. It is a tale that has been told time and again, a fable well-known by everyone. In a manner far different from Disney’s iconic film, del Toro’s takes things back to their basics. In a film that closely mirrors the original story, while expanding on key themes relevant to the filmmakers, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is the most layered version yet.
At its core, Pinocchio deals with the concept of life, death, rebirth, love, and grief. Many films have trouble conveying just one of these incredibly potent themes, yet Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio encompasses all of it. The love Geppetto has for his son quickly turns to grief when he loses him. This serves as the lynchpin of the film. In many ways, this version of Pinocchio is as much a Geppetto story as one of the iconic wooden boy. The love between father and son is explored through song, prose, and quiet moments, something del Toro extensively spoke to us during a press conference in New York. The second half of the film is a thesis on the meaning of life. Pinocchio is made of wood, yet teaches multiple characters about the meaning of life throughout the tale.
Perhaps the greatest representation of life and death in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio comes through the physical representation of these figures through angels. This theme is beautifully packaged through del Toro’s creative eye, which has become synonymous with dark, gothic, and fantastic creatures. These twin characters give Pinocchio and the audience at large, much to think about throughout the film. The story does not shy with the concept of death and frequently bleeds this powerful word through religion and faith. Pinocchio manages to convey this core theme better than any other cinematic interpretation of the story.
From a voice-acting perspective, the film is also top-notch. Ewan McGregor takes the role of Sebastian J. Cricket. Joining him is a talented slew of actors like Gregory Mann as the titular character and David Bradley as Geppetto. The talents of Christoph Waltz, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton are also perfectly woven into the story.
Perhaps the true stars of the film, something both del Toro and co-director Mark Gustafson would attest to, are the animators. In a shoot that lasted almost a thousand days with 60+ individual filming units to manage, the film required a herculean effort to create. This is paid off in dividends in one the most beautiful animated films of the modern age. The animators are given the same standing as the actors in the credits and the work is well-stated. Stop-motion animation is a largely forgotten art form and the Pinocchio is a true gift to the medium.
In an interview with me at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, del Toro spoke about the challenges with stop-motion and the ultimate reward in animating the film.
“If you take into account that some animators went into a set and stayed there for two years, two years. And you think about the level of intimacy that gives an animator with the puppet. We stop our lives so these things can live. And therefore, the hardest shots for me are the quietest ones.”Guillermo del Toro to Cinema Debate
5 years in the making, Pinocchio has always been Guillermo del Toro’s passion project. Despite the director’s success in the industry, there was admitted difficulty in finding the budget and the right studio that will green-light the project. After winning Best Director at the Academy Awards for The Shape of Water, the window for Pinocchio finally opened.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio forces audiences to look at Pinocchio with reverence as any iconic character in fiction. The director continued his conversation with me by discussing the power of stop motion and a means to bring this character to life.
“We look at a puppet or an animation figure in a more intense way than we see a human actor. These avatars that are almost superhuman. We empty ourselves into them.”Guillermo del Toro to Cinema Debate
There are layers to each decision. As the film questions the value of life in this wooden boy, the audience is forced to question the value of the animation. This feels especially poignant as high-level executives question if animation stands toe-to-toe with live action. For del Toro, that answer is a resounding yes.
“Animation is a goddamn art form. And we need to respect it like that because it’s the only one that gives us that experience. It’s an act of magic that only animation has.”Guillermo del Toro to Cinema Debate
Guillermo del Toro poured a lot of his soul into making Pinocchio. Not only is the film his first stop-motion feature-length film, but it is also his first time directing a musical, one in which he was instrumental in writing the songs. Two of the best in the film are My Son and Ciao Papa, which work as an incredible yin-and-yang to each other. The bond between father and son continues to reverberate throughout the film’s core theme.
Without delving into spoilers, perhaps the most poignant moment of the film comes with the bittersweet ending. Rather than the Disney ending where Pinocchio becomes a real boy, there are real consequences to the story being told and the ending makes you truly think about the meaning of life for this character.
Overall, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a multi-layered, beautifully animated, wonderfully performed, and powerfully envisioned retelling of a classic tale. Truly one of the best films of the year.