Movie Review: ‘Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio’

Greetings again from the darkness. Looking for someone to create the opposite of a whimsical childhood fairy tale? The obvious answer is filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (an Oscar winner). He has built his career on delivering dark thrillers that dig into the recesses of our nightmares (PAN’S LABRYNTH, THE SHAPE OF WATER). In fact, he’s a master of this, which makes his vision of Carlo Callodi’s 1883 book a must see. GDT shares a director credit with animation expert Mark Gustafson (FANTASTIC MR FOX, 2009) and screenwriting credit with Patrick McHale. Matthew Robbins has a ‘screen story’ credit, and of course it all links back to Callodi’s source material.

From scene one we immediately sense the different approach than both the light-hearted Disney animated classic from 1940 and Robert Zemeckis’ sentimental live-action version starring Tom Hanks released just a few months ago. It’s darker and gloomier with a unique stop-action look saturated in browns. We also recognize that GDT has chosen a different timeline, as the effects of one of the last WWI bombs takes the life of Geppetto’s beloved young son, Carlo, and Mussolini and fascism are referenced throughout the story.

Everyone knows the story, and the core remains intact – though GDT adds his special touches and twists. One night, a drunken grieving woodcrafter carves a wooden puppet. As Geppetto sleeps it off, the Wood Sprite brings the puppet to life, and just like that, Pinocchio is born and Geppetto has his new son. Another unexpected twist is how much of the film is musical with song lyrics and music by del Toro and the film’s composer, two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat. But don’t mistake songs for an upbeat movie. It’s still dark and bleak, and of course, GDT nails the sea beast whose belly houses Geppetto and Mr. Cricket in the most thrilling segment.

Young Gregory Mann voices Pinocchio and Carlo, Ewan McGregor voices Sebastian J Cricket, and David Bradley is Geppetto. Beyond that, the all-star voice cast features Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, and Burn Gorman. No one does fantasy-horror better than Guillermo del Toro, and even with his first foray into animation, delivers a unique look and spin on a familiar story. He even makes it easy to pick up on the Frankenstein (the Mary Shelley novel) influence, so I’ll say it again … don’t mistake this for the family-friendly Disney fare you grew up on.

Opens in theaters on December 9, 2022

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