'Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio' review: The best version of this story ever told
Courtesy of Netflix
I never thought I’d utter this sentence in my life: But thank goodness I sat through the Disney dreck that was Robert Zemeckis’ awful “Pinnochio” earlier this year. Why? Because it made Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion take on the beloved story all the more vibrant, enriching, and emotional. Whereas the Disney+ iteration relied on sight gags (who could forget Pinnochio standing over a pile of horse dung), horrendous visual effects and a questionable Tom Hanks as Geppetto, del Toro’s inspired direction gives audiences the best version of the story yet (even going back to the classic 1940 version). It’s a miraculous achievement all things considered. How many times have we heard the story of Pinocchio before? The little wooden boy who dreams of becoming real and whose nose grows every time he tells a lie. But I tell you (and this ain’t a lie) you’ve never seen Pinocchio like this before and it’s easily one of 2022’s finest accomplishments.
Really, we shouldn’t be shocked. This comes from the mind who created a lavish, all encompassing world in “Pan’s Labyrinth” and understands the emotional core of what makes this narrative tick. Del Toro and co-director Mark Gustafson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”) unleash a vibrant, beautiful texture on screen, pushing the limits of stop-motion storytelling while bringing new subtext and appreciation for Carol Collodi’s beloved source material.
A long gestating passion project for del Toro, the movie has immaculate detail where every image feels cut from the same cloth as his Oscar winning “The Shape of Water” with the signature brand of macabre imagery on full display, from the ugliest looking Monstro you’ll ever see to card-playing celestial beings, this version of “Pinocchio” might be too intense for younger viewers, but the heart of the story show no limitation. It’s both haunting and beautiful.
For starters, this Pinocchio isn’t the rosy-cheeked poster child most have come to expect, rather this puppet is made up of a collection of splinters with exposed nails and creaky metal joints as he was molded by Geppetto in a drunken splurge. The obvious comparison is Frankenstein’s monster, but then you hear the excellent voice work by English actor Gregory Mann and you can’t help but fall in love with this curious yet innocent creation. As evident in Mann’s rendition of the song “Everything is New to Me,” composed with the utmost posterity by Alexandre Desplat with del Toro helping on the lyrics, this “Pinocchio” is eager to learn and make his daddy proud.
Written by del Toro with screenwriter Patrick McHale, this version of “Pinocchio” also is superior for what it introduces to children. Themes of religion, existentialism, nationalism, and exploitation alongside hearty dialogue on the relationship a father shares with his son, “Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” doesn’t sugarcoat, and, in fact, features a heart wrenching opening sequence that rivals “Up” in terms of sheer devastation. But, again, it makes the overall journey so much more rewarding. You all remember the beginning of “Finding Nemo” right? How did that movie turn out?
In addition to Mann, the rest of the voice work is top-notch. David Bradley brings a heartbreaking scowl to Geppetto, the woodmaker who wishes his wild new creation would behave like a good boy but deep down still loves him; Ewan McGregor dutifully provides the narration and Pinocchio’s conscience as Sebastian J. Cricket, who looks like a cricket and not a fairytale creation (which will probably make some people uncomfortable) and lives inside the center hole of Pinocchio’s wooden chest where his heart would be (how symbolic!); Christoph Waltz is the perfect, sniveling fit as the crooked carnie Count Volpe while Cate Blanchett is having a blast playing Volpe’s monkey sidekick Spazzatura who only speaks in grunts, growls, and cackles. Rounding out the cast is Tilda Swinton pulling double duties as Wood Sprite, the magical fairy who brings Pinocchio to life and Death, the purveyor of the underworld where Pinocchio hilariously ends up on occasion.
All of this is told in splendid fashion with outstanding craftsmanship and visuals. Oftentimes you’ll sit there wondering how the filmmakers were able to pull off some of these impressive shots, specifically the ones under water. But the true beauty of del Toro’s vision lies in the sentimentality that comes from a father loving his children unconditionally. Geppetto never gives up on Pinocchio and this version shows the lengths he’ll go to make sure he knows that. Love will always conquer in times of war, depression, and unwavering heartache. Turns out, all we needed was an adorable puppet to remind us that was still possible.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO debuts on Netflix Friday, December 9th.