The Reel Review
Oscar-winning director Guillermo Del Toro uses stop-motion animation and dazzling visuals in this adult-themed, musical adaptation of the beloved classic. Following his young son’s tragic death, Italian woodworker Geppetto (David Bradley) carves a wooden boy from a pine tree near his son’s grave, brought to life one night by a mystic blue Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton). The story explores the complexity of father-son relationships and mortality.
Clearly darker than Disney’s 1940 original, and with a perfectly cast Ewan MacGregor as the voice of narrator Sebastian J. Cricket, this Pinocchio is set in a WWII-era fascist Italy of the 1930s. When Geppetto demands that the wooden marionette be more like his dead son Carlo, Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) joins the circus where Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) uses him to perform war-time propaganda for children. The film is a celebration of nonconforming individuality and an indictment of blind obedience as well as the Catholic Church’s hypocrisy during the era.
Working with co-director Mark Gustafson, Del Toro’s meticulously detailed, spectacular visuals are staggering to behold. The only real downside to the highly symbolic film is that some of the songs don’t really connect and with so much focus on the incredible visuals, the wildly inventive story itself at times gets shortchanged. Still, Del Toro has crafted an impressive take on the classic and the ending is a beautiful and poignant tribute to the fleetingness of life.
• Pinocchio is the third time Guillermo Del Toro has set a film during a real-life political conflict. 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth were set during and after the Spanish Civil War.
• Originally Del Toro wanted John Hurt to voice Geppetto but Hurt died of cancer in January 2017. Hurt’s Harry Potter co-star David Bradley, who had replaced Hurt in another Del Toro production, 2014’s The Strain, again agreed to replace him.
• Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is one of three Pinocchio film adaptations in 2022, after Robert Zemeckis’ Disney version starring Tom Hanks and the Russian-made Pinocchio: A True Story, which was voiced by comic actor Pauly Shore.