Released 2022. Directors: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN SOMEONE SAYS "STOP-MOTION ANIMATION"? Wallace & Gromit? Chicken Run? Corpse Bride? Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio has now taken this filmmaking technique up another level.
As incredible as the works of people like Nick Park and Tim Burton are, it’s no exaggeration to say this Pinocchio is an amazing feat of artistry. The movements are so unbelievably smooth at times it feels wrong to call it stop-motion. The characters are expressive, the set designs are so detailed, and it’s hard to tell the boundaries between the physical and the computer-augmented.
Del Toro might have wished upon a star and the blue fairy granted him an army of talented craftspeople. The familiar fable by Carlo Collodi is given a glorious sheen while retaining its heart and soul, with a little update.
I won’t repeat the story here. I’m pretty sure everyone still remembers it from their childhood. In this version, we see Geppeto's young son Carlo die in the shadow of an uncompleted sculpture of the crucified Christ. The old man is a temperamental carpenter who gives himself over to fits of anger and is no stranger to the bottle. In grief and drunken rage one night he cuts down the pine tree next to Carlo’s grave to carve himself a puppet boy.
Pinocchio’s origin is steeped in a sense of unjust and loss, yet from the moment he comes alive, the puppet embodies energy, joyfulness and hope, The born optimist always has his sights set beyond any present obstacles to better times ahead.
By placing the story in the 1930s, del Toro brings in the twin evils of war and fascism. Mussolini even makes a cameo. The element of war is not new in del Toro’s movies. Pan’s Labyrinth, for instance, takes place in the Spanish war under Franco’s brutal regime.
The war also brings out a comparison of two father figures in the movie. Geppeto puts himself in great danger and ends up in the belly of a monster fish trying to find Pinocchio. Local chief Podesta, on the other hand, thinks nothing of sending his own pre-pubescent son Candlewick off to fight in the war, surely to perish doing so.
The streak of darkness that runs through del Toro’s movies also marks the mood in Pinocchio. Once again children find themselves in dreadful situations, echoing The Devil’s Backbone and again, Pan’s Labyrinth. Pinocchio is also hoodwinked into working at the carnival under Count Volpe as a slave performer with no pay. Ghosts and monsters, a familiar element in a del Toro movie, come in the form of humans, namely Volpe and Podesta,
Even with the dark themes of death and grief, Pinocchio never feels too heavy for young audiences. It is ultimately the most uplifting and positive of del Toro’s movies when in the poignant ending our young hero learns about the value of life.
Pinocchio is crafted to be a visually astonishing entertainment for audiences of any age. Pinocchio’s world is busy and there’s always something to attract your attention. Not every object is beautiful but everything feels natural and you don’t feel that any element is out of place. The cast voice their characters in a wonderful dramatic style especially David Bradley, who brings out the anguish in Geppeto. The lineup of these invisible storytellers includes Ewan McGregor, Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, Christof Waltz, John Turturro, Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett (she’s Sparatuzza the baboon).
There were two Pinocchio movies released a few months apart, but I haven’t seen Disney’s live-action Pinocchio which stars Tom Hanks, so I’m not going to make any comparisons. In the end, this version of the familiar tale makes a contemporary update. In a stark contrast to the original classic, no longer does the wooden puppet want to be a real boy. He never expresses a desire to do so other than to return home to his Papa. In his mind, he’s already real and doesn’t need to change himself. He doesn’t turn into a flesh-and-blood boy by magic but remains a child carved out of wood because he’s made this way. The message of acceptance is implicit but clear, as if hidden in plain sight.
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