Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022): Stacked with beautiful visuals and also evocatively moving from the get-go to its final moments, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a cinematic delight. In his imagination of the popular Italian fable, del Toro infused some necessary darkness into his material, but he also balances that out by keeping a constant kid-friendly tone. That is not exactly a criticism by any means, but it somehow tugs the film a bit down while it mostly soars high.
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Of course, it does appear as a breath of fresh air after the world had to endure the stinkiness of Disney’s absolutely horrid live-action adaptation in the same year; another profound example of the studio’s modern-day madness of giving life to every classic animation while taking the soul away. In stark contrast, del Toro’s Pinocchio automatically brings a wide grin to your face, along with moments where the eyes get wet, with both happy and sad tears. It comes very close to Disney’s 1940 animated version, which is inarguably the greatest adaptation of the Carlo Collodi fairytale ever.
But this one comes off as something very original as well, thanks to del Toro’s decision to set the story in 1930s Italy, which yields the opportunity of making a very essential anti-war statement in the face of fascism and allowing the titular character to tell Mussolini to eat shot. With his long-time collaborator Matthew Robins, del Toro waves a story where he makes “war” the real villain as it takes away the little boy Carlo from his father, master woodcarver Geppetto as a mere casualty because the Italian aircraft were only passing over the sky of Geppetto’s little town. The bomb was callously thrown away only to reduce a bit of weight. The screenplay, written by del Toro with Patrick McHale, manages to set things up easily within the first twenty minutes before our titular lead character gets his first shot at life from the magical fairy, Wood Sprite.
The one other person who should be lauded for that has to be Ewan McGregor. Easily the best thing about the film, McGregor takes voice acting to a whole other level by managing to portray every single kind of human emotion that makes you care, weep and cheer for his Sebastian J. Cricket, aka the narrator, writer, and the one who is in charge of our hero’s good conscience. In fact, it also comes to us as a reminder that even in 2022, voice-acting does not get the kind of recognition that it should. McGregor’s performance is award-worthy and definitely one of the best we have seen (heard) this year.
Not only McGregor, but every bit of casting here is also absolutely perfect. Be it David Bradley bringing out both warmth and urgency in Geppetto’s voice or Christoph Waltz putting the right amount of showmanship and mischief in his Count Volpe, the opportunist puppet master who basically abducts Pinocchio for his own gain, or Ron Perlman’s Podesta, the cruel war supporter and Mussolini loyalist; everyone just hits it out of the park here. As Pincocchilo’s friend and Podesta’s son Candlestick, Finn Wolfhard is also very impressive. This performance might just help the young actor earn some appreciation outside his Stranger Things world. Gregory Mann, who voices both Geppetto’s sons, Carlo and Pinocchio, does very well by effortlessly separating the two from each other. Not to mention, he also performs most of the songs in the musical wonderfully, which completely justifies his lead casting. Tim Blake Nelson, Burn Gorman, Tom Keany, and John Turturo all chip in to round off the astonishingly great voice cast.
Of course, it would be blasphemous, not to mention the two living legends, Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett. As the magical fairy, Wood Sprite, who gives Life to Pinocchio, and also Death, the sister of Wood Sprite, in charge of the film’s version of the afterlife, Swinton is magnificent. Blanchett’s almost wordless performance is particularly impressive as the Count’s initially scared pet baboon, Spazzatura, eventually rebels against him, rightfully. Using the character in place of the cat from the original story also serves the film very well, as Spazzatura’s pain and misery are felt by the audience in a rather direct manner.
Speaking of that, while being an anti-war film on a broader scale, del Toro’s Pinocchio also stands against slavery and the exploration of the weak and poor, two of the darkest traits of a fascist society. It also subtly gives a parenting lesson by putting two comparable father and son arcs in the narrative. Geppetto’s love for Carlo and Pinocchio only amplifies Candlestick’s pain of living without getting any of it from his father, Podesta. This also makes Candlestick finally blast his father with yellow paint, and Spazzatura attacks the count to help their friend Pinocchio, two of the most satisfying scenes in the film.
The task of doing something that has been done so many times already is never easy. But with the help of Alexandre Desplat’s musical genius, del Toro and his co-director, animator Mark Gustafson, not only aced at that; they also created this world where I found myself weeping during the last ten minutes despite being able to predict what was going to happen. This is sheer genius filmmaking, so simple and elegant, just like the film’s stop-motion animation. At the end of the day, all this world probably needs is an understanding of the value of grief, the importance of love, and most certainly, the magic of a cup full of Pincocchilo’s favorite Hot chocolate. Oh, a lullaby sung by Ewan McGregor would be a cherry on top. You can watch Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio on Netflix worldwide.