The tale of Pinocchio dates all the way back to 1883 from Florence, Italy by a writer named Carlo Collodi. Much like many other famous stories, Pinocchio was brought to life on the screen by Disney. This film adaptation would be so critically and financially successful that it was considered one of the greatest animated films to have been made. Due to this success, Disney decided to remake their classic tale not once, but twice: the first being a run-of-the-mill live action adaptation, and the latter a stop-motion animated film from creative visionary Guillermo Del Toro.
The story is narrated by a talking cricket named Sebastian (voiced by Ewan McGregor). During World War II in Italy, a carpenter named Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) tragically loses his son Carlo in a bombing. In his grief, he constructs a wooden puppet from the pinecone that Carlo collected shortly before his death. This puppet is then brought to life by a Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton) who names him Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann). Pinocchio is eager to explore the world around him, yet Geppetto is less than enthused. An argument ensues between the two and Pinocchio leaves, joining a traveling carnival performing for a shady puppeteer. After a disastrous performance, he joins the Italian military due to his inability to die. All this time, a guilt-stricken Geppetto searches for Pinocchio, who he begins to see as his son.
To create an animated feature film is difficult itself. However, to create an animated feature film using stop-motion is another arduous task all together. Stop-motion is achieved by taking a variety of pictures of an object moving frame by frame and piecing it all together. While there are studios who specialized in stop-motion animation, such as Aardman, not many utilize this archaic filmmaking method. Del Toro felt drawn to stop-motion in his early years and even intended for his first feature film, Cronos, to be stop-motion. It wasn’t until thirty years later when he achieved his goal of making a stop-motion picture. And the long wait made the payoff all the more satisfying.
Del Toro’s Pinocchio fully transcends the definition of a proper reimagining. Combining his usual grungy colors and fantastical and mythical elements, Pinocchio at heart is a story that asks the question what it means to be a real boy. While this concept may have been rehashed from his Hellboy films, I think the message is stronger in Pinocchio. As many people know, Pinocchio’s entire wish is to become a real boy. But while Disney takes it as a literal meaning, Del Toro makes the message completely his own. Rather than have Pinocchio transform into a real boy, he instead focuses on what makes him a real person to begin with. And this has to do with his near immortality. Since he is immortal, he can never be a real boy and will outlive all of his loved ones. As such, he learns to spend as much time as he can with those he cares for, as he never knows when his next encounter with someone will be his last.
But besides the strong message of the film, I was really impressed by the performances in Pinocchio. Gregory Mann is nothing short of excellent as the titular Pinocchio! This is made even more impressive by the fact that this is his first starring role. But what also stood out to me were the performances of both David Bradley and Ewan McGregor. Bradley’s vocal performance and intonations reminded me of John Hurt as Professor Broom in Del Toro’s Hellboy, especially how both characters are fathers at heart despite the front they put on, although Professor Broom treated Hellboy much better compared to Geppetto’s early treatment of Pinocchio.
Speaking of Geppetto, his character is the epitome of the grieving father. After losing his son, he is given a second chance at fatherhood. He initially wants Pinocchio to be a carbon copy of his deceased son but throughout the film, learns to let go and move on. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor as Sebastian the Talking Cricket is perhaps one of McGregor’s most humorous performances I’ve ever seen! There are moments when I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at his line delivery. To complement his humorous moments, McGregor heavily delivers in his more dramatic and serious scenes, such as when he does his best to be a guide for both Pinocchio and Geppetto. While most people know McGregor best as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, his role as Sebastian the Talking Cricket should not be overlooked at all.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a perfect example of an adaptation done right. When I first heard Del Toro was doing an adaptation of the classic tale, I wasn’t interested. However, after seeing the concept art and stop motion approach, my interest in the film increased tremendously. Del Toro has a clear and unique vision that both honors the original source material, yet is distinctly his own, succeeding where many other directors would fail. Full of heart, breathtaking visuals, and a new and familiar cast, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Del Toro’s Pinocchio is nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2022 Golden Globe Awards, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it got an Academy Award nomination either!