Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is dark, inviting and beautiful, with well written songs, incredible voice acting and a lot of heart.
WRITTEN BY BECCA JOHNSON / DECEMBER 13, 2022
This is not the first version of this story, nor is it even the first of 2022, but due to being directed by Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), it's the Pinocchio that fans have been looking forward to the very most. Many believed del Toro's signature visual and story-telling styles would lend themselves well to this well known story; they were right. This time around, we follow the well-known character during the rise of fascism in Mussolini's Italy, as he struggles to meet his Father expectations. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is dark, inviting and beautiful, with well written songs, incredible voice acting and a lot of heart.
The Shape of Water, Pan's Labyrinth, Nightmare Alley and Crimson Peak all have plenty of admirable features, yet they undeniably impress all with one common factor; their visuals. Luckily, Pinocchio is not the exception, and it's as visually stunning as we'd expect a del Toro feature to be. It's darker and richer than previous versions of the story, but that's what makes it stand out. Although we can draw easy comparisons to the original story and characters, this one dares to be different and offer something fresh in its character design. Pinocchio looks more like a 'wooden boy' than he ever has, and the likes of the Wood Sprite, Sebastain J. Cricket and The Black Rabbits really stand out. As well as the character design excelling, the settings are just as eye-catching – it's very immersive.
We've seen this story told plenty of times, but we have never seen it quite so thematically rich as this. After losing his son, we see Gepetto dealing with his grief and it eventually taking control of his whole life. As the wooden puppet Pinocchio comes into his life and realises he has big shoes to fill, he never feels good enough despite trying hard to live up to his Father's expectations. Set in Mussolini's Italy, we have a backdrop of war that adds a lot of discourse, and gives it a dark and upsetting edge. It explores pressure, grief, war, loss, death, control, exploitation and power in an easily digestible but important and well structured way. It's deep themes along with short bouts of violence indicate that this animated flick is not aimed at younger children, and adults may get more out of it that anyone.
There's still a lot in here for a younger audience to enjoy, especially it's songs. They may not be as iconic or catchy as the 1940's Disney movie, but they're incredibly well written and fun. The voice acting is up to scratch from all involved, yet Ewan McGregor easily stands out as the best vocal performer. His character, Sebastian J. Crickett is also a vessel for humour, adding a lot of laughs throughout the runtime that are fun for the whole family. Speaking of performances, the young Gregory Mann is great as the titular Pinocchio, and Tilda Swinton impresses as the eerie yet dazzling Wood Sprite.
There are times when Pinocchio feels a little cluttered, repetitive and obvious in its lessons. It becomes clear what the overarching take home message will be, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but leads it down a road of predictability. The constant trips to the underworld, although being the most visually compelling scenes of the movie, feel overdone by the end. However, it has so much heart and emotion that it's easy to look past it's overly adventurous storytelling as the majority of the time, it really does work. We can forgive predictability from a story that's been adapted before, and forced messages from a thematically rich script that gets you thinking from beginning to end. It's not teaching us anything new, but it feels unique regardless.
Despite feeling a little clunky between it's second and third acts, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is a triumph. We were correct to trust del Toro with this story as it's a feast for the eyes and the mind. Guillermo del Toro, this time pairing up in the directors chair with Mark Gustafson, creates a fantastical, coming-of-age tale that deals with it's important themes masterfully, tugs on the heartstrings and makes us laugh. It's the most visually striking of all Pinocchio flicks, has terrific voice acting and will stick with you for longer than perhaps any other renditions of this story.