Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) Explained: The master of macabre horror Guillermo del Toro, alongside debut co-director Mark Gustafson, collaborates to bring together the adaptation of one of the best-loved children’s books of all time, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) by Carlo Collodi. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a stop-motion animated musical fantasy that reinvents the classic story of a wooden puppet brought to life. Countering the fairy tale setting of the earlier versions, del Toro’s Pinocchio is set in the 1930s in Fascist Italy between the two World Wars and during the rise of Benito Mussolini’s authoritarian Italian rule.
This politically charged reimagining is a story of unconditional love, self-discovery, and learning the true inherent meaning of life. This moving and enlightening coming-of-age tale thematically discusses parental expectations, exploitation of show-biz, grief over the loss of a loved one, the brutal ideology of fascism, and existentialism. Toro himself remarked, “The film is thematically about different types of fatherhood — what it is to be a father, what it is to be a child. Some are lethal, some are exploitative, and some are permeable to love.” The similarities between Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein prompted Guillermo del Toro to construct it as both stories narrate how a child is thrown into the real world and expects them to realize the essential values of life.
In Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, the eponymous character is carved from a tree that grows over the grave of Carlo, Master Geppetto’s son, giving Pinocchio’s grief-ridden father a second chance at fatherhood. The change of setting to a political environment where everyone acts like compliant puppets while Pinocchio stands out imitating no one is remarkable and a protest against blind obedience and domestication of a child’s soul. The introduction of Death alongside the Wood Sprite shows the two sides of life.
Major spoilers ahead! Tread carefully!
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (2022) SYNOPSIS & SUMMARY
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio commences with a close-up of a snow-covered pine cone hanging from a conifer. Then the camera follows the footprints of Master Geppetto (David Bradley) in the snow and sees him grieving near the gravesite of his deceased son Carlo (Gregory Mann). The narrator Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), an anthropomorphic traveling cricket, tells in flashback Geppetto’s days with his real son at the beginning. Set in a quaint little Italian town during the outbreak of World War I, Geppetto, a woodcarver, was living peacefully and contentedly with Carlo. Geppetto is known to be a model citizen and a good father. We see the duo having dinner together, Geppetto telling him the bedtime story, teaching him never to lie or his nose will grow, and singing to him to sleep every night. They were inseparable, and all they needed was each other’s company. Carlo helps his father in his woodcarving endeavors – cutting down trees and planting pine cones to replace them. Geppetto carves a massive crucifix for their local church as well as a wooden pair of shoes for Carlo.
One day, while Geppetto was up on a ladder painting the blood from the crown of thorns on the crucified Christ at the church, they heard warplanes. An apprehensive Geppetto rushes to go home, but when Carlo goes inside the church to retrieve a flawless pine cone, a bomb is dropped on the church. The planes which were heading back to the base simply let go of their bombs to make their ballasts lighter. Carlo immediately gets killed in the bombing raid that destroys the church, but the crucifix still stands. Geppetto, who managed to survive, mourns the loss of Carlo and honors his memory by planting a pine cone near his grave. A heartbroken Geppetto worked very less, and the church’s crucifix remained unfinished.
HOW DID GEPPETTO MAKE PINOCCHIO?
Sebastian J. Cricket, who introduces himself as an aspiring writer, had been looking for the ideal conditions to set his life story to paper and settles down in the pine tree that grew from Carlo’s pinecone. Shortly after he makes it to his sanctuary, he finds a drunken Geppetto still grieving his son twenty years later, having not been able to move on. In a drunken rage, Geppetto cuts down the pine tree in a desperate attempt to bring his dead son back. He brings the tree back to his workshop and carves a puppet out of it but passes out in his drunken stupor. All of a sudden, a swarm of glowing eyes comes into his shop and turns into a bluish magical fairy Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) with two wings that have eyes on them and a snake-like tail. She is a guardian of the lost and forgotten ones and decides to bring the puppet to life and name him Pinocchio. She meets Sebastian, who was dwelling on the heart of the wooden toy, and asks him to become Pinocchio’s moral compass or conscience, and in exchange for his guidance, she will grant him a wish, which he intends to use to become famous.
When Geppetto woke up the next day, he was aghast and frightened to find the puppet he made in a drunken daze alive and speaking. He introduces himself as Pinocchio and starts calling him Papa. Much to his surprise, the talking cricket Sebastian tells Geppetto that Pinocchio is telling the truth. Pinocchio is full of energy and lively, to whom everything in the world is new. When Pinocchio creates chaos in the house, Geppetto locks him in the closet and goes to the church to ease his mind. Defying the wishes of his father, Pinocchio follows him to the church and excitedly introduces himself to the entire town. The entire town witnesses the wooden puppet and accuses Geppetto of witchcraft for creating a wooden boy who can talk, walk, and behave like a real human being. When Podesta (Ron Perlman), a fascist government official, questions Geppetto, the puppet says that he is “made of flesh and bone and meaty bits.” Suddenly, a branch grows out of Pinocchio’s nose for telling a lie. They are kicked out of the church for frightening the congregation.
WHY DOES PINOCCHIO NEED TO GO TO SCHOOL?
The same day, Geppetto is interrogated by the town priest (Burn Gorman) and Podesta, working under Mussolini’s regime in 1930s Italy. They find that Pinocchio needs to be disciplined and educated and to be taken to school. Podesta shows off his son Candlewick, a bold, virile, fascist youth, and warns Geppetto about Pinocchio’s undisciplined mind. Pinocchio gets close to the fireplace, and his wooden legs catch fire while Geppetto immediately douses him with water. Geppetto promises that he will make him new legs the next day. Sebastian explains Pinocchio of Carlo’s death and the painful burden of loss.
The next day, Pinocchio is exuberant about getting his new legs and goes to complete the work on the crucifix at the church. While finishing their work, Pinocchio asks why everyone likes Christ, who is made of wood, and not Pinocchio, to which Geppetto replies that people are afraid of things they don’t know and that once they get to know him, they will like him. Getteppo gives him Carlo’s old schoolbooks, and Pinocchio promises that he will also be a good boy like Carlo. On his way to school, Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), an ambitious former aristocrat-turned-puppet master and ringmaster living in destitution, and Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), his mistreated baboon assistant, notice Pinocchio and intends to make a lot of money from the living puppet. Volpe asks him to join the circus as the star of the puppet show. Volpe invokes temptation in Pinocchio with the promise of hot chocolate, games, and stardom, and Pinocchio is made to sign a contract while the monkey pet intercepts Pinocchio’s moral conscience Sebastian.
HOW DID PINOCCHIO MEET DEATH?
When Podesta informs Geppetto that Pinocchio didn’t attend school, Geppetto goes in search of him and finds Carlo’s schoolbook abandoned. Geppetto reaches the circus grounds and reprimands Pinocchio for his misbehavior. Pained by the comparison between Pinocchio and Carlo, Pinocchio starts to lie, resulting in the growth of his nose more and more. When Geppetto tries to take Pinocchio home, Geppetto and Volpe have a tug-of-war culminating in Pinocchio being thrown to the road and run over by a car.
Pinocchio is sent to the afterlife and ends up meeting Death herself (Tilda Swinton), who oversees the afterlife. She is the Wood Sprite’s sister and appears in the form of a Chimera with the face of a human, the horns of a cape buffalo, the body of a lion, the wings of a bird with eyes on them, and two snake-headed tails. She explains that he is immortal and people in the living don’t live forever, and he will outlive them. She also mentions that he will have several encounters with death but will go back to life when his broken limbs are fixed. Meanwhile, Getteppo and the townspeople are trying to figure out whether he is alive or dead. Pinocchio suddenly returns to the mortal world and is reunited with his father. However, Volpe threatens that if Pinocchio doesn’t stick to the contract he signed, he will owe him an insurmountable sum of money. While Podesta suggests that he should become a soldier who is much needed right then.
WHY DID PINOCCHIO DECIDE TO JOIN THE CIRCUS?
Getteppo is disappointed with Pinocchio when he learns that he owes money to Volpe and asks him why he can’t be like Carlo. He calls him a burden in an overwhelming state, causing Pinocchio to feel hurt and ashamed. That night, he decides to leave Geppetto and go back to the circus to make money to help his father as well as to avoid being drafted into the war by the strict Podesta. Pinocchio strikes a deal with Volpe, asking him to send half the earnings to his father in exchange for his performances. Volpe agrees and goes along with the traveling circus performing across several towns. When Geppetto awakes the next morning, he feels guilty and sorry for his contemptuous behavior. Sebastian and Geppetto go in search embark on a journey to find the boy and bring him back home. While searching for Pinocchio, Sebastian and Geppetto are swallowed by a giant Dogfish that has the size of twenty ships.
In the meantime, Volpe informs Pinocchio that they are going to Catania, a small town, by sea to perform for Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. When Spazzatura uses other puppets to tell Pinocchio that Volpe hasn’t been sending any money to his father, Pinocchio refuses to believe it. However, when he sees Volpe violently beating and mistreating Spazzatura, he confronts Volpe but is unable to stand against him. He takes revenge against the cruel Volpe by showering insults at Mussolini during the performance. Having gotten offended, Mussolini orders his right-hand man to shoot Pinocchio, and he dies once more. In the afterlife, Death informs that he is charged with a terrible burden because of his immortality. While Pinocchio may have eternal life, his loved ones and friends do not, and every moment shared with them may be the very last.
WHAT HAPPENS TO PINOCCHIO AT THE TRAINING CAMP?
When Pinocchio gets revived again, he is taken to the Elite Military Project for Special Patriotic Youth, a fascist training camp run by Podesta where small boys train themselves to fight in the war. Pinocchio is hailed as a perfect soldier as he can die for the country several times while others can lay down their lives only once. They are taught to be fearless, to fight for the glory of Italy, and to make their fatherland proud. Pinocchio knows that Geppetto thinks that war is bad, but he carries on to compete with Candlewick in a war of words. In the paint-gun game of “Capture the Flag,” two teams headed by Pinocchio and Podesta fight each other, but in the end, they decide on a tie. However, Podesta pulls out his real gun to make them understand the importance of winners and losers and asks Candlewick to shoot Pinocchio. Having befriended Pinocchio, Candlewick refuses to shoot Pinocchio and stands up to his father, who was earlier scared of disappointing his father. Soon, the Allied planes bomb the training facility, out of which Pinocchio survives.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (2022) ENDING EXPLAINED:
HOW DID PINOCCHIO ESCAPE FROM THE BELLY OF THE DOGFISH?
Pinocchio somehow escapes the bombing but is captured by Volpe, who wants to exact revenge for humiliating him before Mussolini. Surprisingly, Spazzatura intervenes, and they are sent over a cliff, with Volpe meeting his demise, but Spazzatura survives by falling into the ocean. While floating on the sea, they are swallowed by the Dogfish. Pinocchio and Spazzatura find Geppetto and Sebastian in the belly of the Dogfish, where they get reunited after a long time. They devise a plan to escape the dreaded beast that involves extending the nose of Pinocchio to reach the Dogfish’s blowholes, force it to sneeze, and then get out of there. Pinocchio tells some lies to make his nose grow and gets out of the dogfish’s stomach.
When they try to escape, the dogfish attacks them again. Pinocchio, Spazzatura, Geppetto, and Cricket run into a sea mine that explodes on them, and Pinocchio dies and goes to purgatory. Pinocchio realizes that he needs to spend a long time there to resurge back to life, or he will lose his immortality. But if he keeps on staying there, he won’t be able t save his father from drowning. Death tells Pinocchio that if he attempts to go back soon, he’ll be able to save Geppetto, but he will become mortal. Pinocchio breaks a glass case indicating he has lost his gift of eternal life. He goes back and saves his father from drowning but dies in the process.
HOW DOES SEBASTIAN SAVE PINOCCHIO?
When Pinocchio and Geppetto make it to shore, Pinocchio is lifeless. When Geppetto mourns his loss, the Wood Sprite appears once again and tells Geppetto that she only wants to bring him happiness. Geppetto heartbreakingly affirms that he received true happiness from Pinocchio and wants him to be alive again. The Wood Sprite confesses that Pinocchio became a real boy to save Geppetto, and she cannot bring back real people. Sebastian, who had struck a deal with the Wood Sprite, wishes for Pinocchio to come back to life. The Wood Sprite grants his wish and resurrects Pinocchio back to life, much to the elation of the others. And the father and son reunite once again. Geppetto asks him not to be Carlo or anybody else but to be whoever he wants to be. While Pinocchio has eternal life due to his wooden nature, everyone around him died. When Sebastian died, Pinocchio puts him in a matchbox and carries him right in his heart. After Spazzatura died, Sebastian believes that Pinocchio ventured into the world and did die at some point. Finally, he says, “Whatever happens, happens. And then we are gone,” summing up the cycle of life.