Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio: Dark and beautiful

Pinocchio gets Del Toro's signature macabre treatment, and it's strangely magnificent.

by Justin Choo

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As the saying goes, there is no light without darkness, and for all of Pinocchio’s gloom, it is at its heart, a tale of hope.

Guillermo del Toro’s interpretation of the wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy is a masterpiece of stop-motion. For the backdrop, del Toro chose fascist Italy with the shadow of Benito Mussolini looming over its denizens, painting a punishingly bleak world its inhabitants have to endure.

Geppetto (David Bradley) loses his only son and the love of his life, Carlo (Gregory Mann) under tragic circumstances, which utterly breaks the wizened old woodcarver. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio may well be a work of stop-motion footage of inanimate objects, but this depiction of a broken man is downright gut-wrenching, and a testament to the insane level of artistry by the production team.

Inspired by Gris Grimly’s visual interpretation of Pinocchio that’s far from childlike, it’s hard to imagine that del Toro’s version of Pinocchio was made to be a children’s tale. While it ain’t Tarantino levels of brutal, del Toro pulls no punches in laying out the dynamics of societal relationships. Even Geppetto does not accept Pinocchio at first and the poor puppet constantly lives in the shadow of Carlo. It’s unabashedly brutal (for a kids’ show), yet earnest.

And with the grim reality of living under a fascist regime–both church and state–it’s tempting to think that del Toro is inserting social commentary about religion and politics. However, it’s more likely that the auteur assumes you already accept this truism (given its historical setting anyway), and he is not interested in a morality tale; far from it, because Pinocchio is never preachy.

“Imperfect fathers and imperfect sons, and about loss and love,” Sebastian J Cricket (Ewan McGregor) narrates; lines like “We’re told that in this world, you get what you give,” and “I try my best, and that’s the best anyone can do” certainly sound like cop-out throwaways, but sincerity is often the missing ingredient in most bad examples. Not so in Pinocchio, which is why the words hold weight. The macabre world makes these platitudes stick out like a sore thumb, but the juxtaposition dances perfectly on a knife edge, imploring you to believe even when all hope seems lost.

Pinocchio doesn’t shy away from depicting that only through sheer force of will (or sheer magic) that any good can happen in the face of tyranny where might is right–perhaps a truly uneasy reference in these uncertain times.

Enter our flawed–almost shonen-like–hero, whose childlike desire to please and his inability to resist impulses drive the story along. Unsurprisingly, he is susceptible to exploitation, which antagonist Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) duly obliges out of professional courtesy. While Pinocchio does stand up to oppression, he has little to lose in doing so. But the cost does add up, and eventually, he is called to account and make decisions with actual consequences.

What Pinocchio wants to say is that life is beautiful despite all the horrors of the world if we choose to embrace what is good. It stays true to its tonality with a bittersweet ending whilst reassuring the audience that a life well-lived is all that counts. Nothing matters except what we leave behind as a result of our choices, because it endures far longer than we will.

“What happens, happens. And then we are gone.”

  • 7.5/10
    Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio - 7.5/10
7.5/10

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

If you’re sick of sanitised Disney-fied adaptations, this gritty version of Pinocchio will surprise, delight, and likely move you to tears.

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