Released: 9th December
Seen: 10th December

Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio

It would be fair to say that adaptations of Pinocchio haven’t exactly been spectacular lately. This year alone we had possibly one of the more disappointing entries in the history of Pinocchio adaptations when Disney decided to do another remake of one of their classics and one that had Pauly Shore playing the titular puppet (never reviewed it but it did get memed into oblivion). There was also the strange nightmare one that was released a few years ago that inexplicably was an Oscar contender. 

It seems a little insane to say but it’s very possible that the last actually great version of Pinocchio is the 1940 animated version that most people today associate with the character. If we take that to be the truth (though please someone prove me wrong on it) then it’s taken 82 years but someone finally did another great version of Pinocchio and to the shock of no one, that person is Guillermo Del Toro.

Pinocchio begins much the same as any other version of Pinocchio does, with a little woodcarver named Geppetto (David Bradley) who is mourning the death of his young son Carlo. Geppetto and Carlo lived in Italy during The Great War and poor Carlo died during one of the many bombing raids that devastated the country.  Geppetto plants a pine cone that Carlo found and for 20 years watches a tree grow, a tree that is inhabited by a certain cricket named Jimi- Uh, I mean, Sebastian (Ewan McGregor), until one drunken night he cuts down the tree and makes a puppet to keep him company, that puppet being the titular Pinocchio (Gregory Mann)

Of course, the wood sprite (Tilda Swinton) comes down and gives Pinocchio life and puts Sebastian in charge of ensuring that he grows up to be a good boy. This means getting Pinocchio to school, which isn’t easy when he has wicked carnival people trying to tempt him into joining their troupe and becoming a star… oh and he might also have to fight in the war because he can’t actually die, and it might help him grow up to be a good boy and by ‘Good boy” I naturally mean Anti-Fascist.

Every decision made in Pinocchio is so perfect that it’s almost surprising that it hasn’t existed before, just starting with the choice to make everything stop motion. It’s such a striking visual tone that really suits the story (it’s literally a bunch of puppets telling the story of a puppet) and it’s handled so expertly that it’s almost a stunner that there aren’t a thousand more stop-motion Pinocchios. 

Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

Every design is so beautiful and unique, especially Pinocchio who genuinely looks like he was created in a drunken stupor but is still adorable enough that you can’t help but love him. From the moment the strange little puppet comes to life and trips over his own feet, it’s hard not to fall in love with the characters and that same charm goes through almost the entire cast. Honestly, the only ones you immediately dislike just from looking at them are the obvious fascists, which means they got the designs spot on. It’s one of those films that you could put on mute and still enjoy just for the stunning visual elements.

The only downside to putting Pinocchio on mute would be that you’d miss out on the fantastic performances, both the acting and the songs which might not be as much of an instant earworm as other Pinocchio-related classics like When you Wish Upon A Star or I’ve Got No Strings but they are absolutely a ton of fun and surely will pull on the audience’s heartstrings more than a few times. The performers are really giving their all, though the heart of the film really is David Bradley’s Geppetto who has to slowly accept the loss of his son and, even with just his voice to work with, David will absolutely break your heart more than a few times.

Pinocchio is very careful about how to handle that darker tone, knowing just when to indulge in the emotional moments and when to throw in a bit of levity, making the 2-hour runtime just fly by. It’s honestly surprising how perfectly everything just fits together, there isn’t a scene that overstays its welcome or a moment that needed to be added to make the film work. It’s just kind of impossibly perfect in a way that has to be seen to be believed.

What we end up with is a more grown-up Pinocchio dealing with real-world issues (god the fact we still have to call ‘fascists’ a real-world issue is depressing) in a way that’s entertaining to people of all ages. Even though it’s a children’s story it never talks down to its audience, choosing instead to deal with some heavy topics like loss and war in a way that’s accessible. This also means that adults are not going to be bored out of their skulls, which is often a risk with family films. It just has a little something for everyone and is absolutely fantastic from start to finish. 

Pinocchio has always been a tough story to put to film, mostly because the version most people know and love was done in the 40s and everything afterwards just feels like it’s not even trying by comparison but this version of Pinocchio might just be the perfect version of the story. It’s dark, charming, funny and sweet with enough creativity to have anyone staring in awe at what the filmmakers have somehow pulled off. It’s not just a genuinely great film but a great reminder of the cinematic potential of Stop Motion, a potential we apparently have to remind people of every few years because it’s so underused. I didn’t expect a film this good when I wished upon that star, but it looks like my dream came true.


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