Finally! A rendition of Pinocchio that’s actually good. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is dark, sophisticated, gorgeous, and witty. It’s an instant classic and certainly a worthwhile view for adults and children alike.
Some children’s films can get annoying fast. One of the reasons I like directors/writers like Guillermo del Toro is because he brings an eerie darkness to his work. If you’ve ever seen Pan’s Labyrinth you know what I’m referring to. Del Toro offers that same ghostly foreboding in Pinocchio. The movie is charming and amusing, sure, but it incorporates somber themes in both its visuals and its storytelling.
Much like the animation style of Tim Burton, del Toro plays with muted, shadowy lighting and color choices. There are a lot of purple, black, gray, and neutral undertones. Fantasy characters like the fairy are angelic and spooky all at once.
The film also doesn’t shy away from the sad and unsettling events that underlie the story of Pinocchio. Instead of glossing over the loss of Geppetto’s son, the beginning of the film spends time explaining his life and death. Death isn’t some unspoken, abstract notion. Del Toro respects his young viewers enough to explain this sad reality as honestly as he can. That loss is a result of war, which we see subtly referenced throughout the remainder of the film as well. Even Pinocchio himself dies at one point, and it is through that experience that he learns what it means to be truly alive.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio doesn’t dumb anything down. It evolves into much more than a fairytale because of these choices. He approaches the mature elements of the tale with sophistication and honesty. This variation of Pinocchio not only focuses on themes of loss and war, but it also references history and religion, as well as hate and abuse.
The story takes place across two time periods: World War I and World War II in Italy. We see how the politics and struggles of that time affect Geppetto and the villagers and change the way they live. Nazi salutes, Hitler youth camps, and a Mussolini cameo are juxtaposed by Geppetto’s carving of Jesus on the cross and Pinocchio’s profound question of why the people in their town love the wooden man on the cross but don’t love him, a wooden boy.
In a throwback to the enchantment of the original stop motion animation, del Toro teams up with Jim Henson studios to build the stunning design of this film. The animation is absolutely lovely. The characters carry so much personality in the details of their faces, their costumes, and their movements. The few musical numbers scattered throughout the film are short and whimsical. They compliment the rest of the movie naturally.
It’s so fun to revisit films from your childhood as an adult and pick up on nuanced humor that you previously missed. This film offers those moments with brilliant wit. There are many jokes in Pinocchio that children may appreciate, but adults can really enjoy many of them on another level. And if you know some Italian, you can even pick up on some additional cute jokes as well.
For example, when Pinocchio first comes to life, it freaks out Geppetto. He tells Pinocchio to stay home while he attends church. Of course Pinocchio doesn’t listen, and when he shows up in front of the full congregation, he is met with disbelief and fear by the church goers. One member of the congregation shouts “malocchio” which means jinx in Italian and is pronounced Mall-oak-ee-oh. Pinocchio responds with, “Pinocchio!” assuming the woman was trying to say his name, not curse it. There are plenty more humorous moments I could reference, but I’ll let you enjoy them organically when you watch the movie yourself!
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio carves its own path. It doesn’t reflect Disney’s well-known version, with several changes made to characters and plot points. The voice talents of greats like Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, and Tilda Swinton add even more allure to the magical story. This is a stunning and wholly well-done interpretation of a classic tale that is well worth your attention and time.