Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Ewan McGregor, Gregory Mann, David Bradley, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Finn Wolfhard, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson, Burn Gorman, Cate Blanchett and John Turturro
A father’s wish magically brings a wooden boy to life in Italy, giving him a chance to care for the child.
It’s been a long time in development, but this weekend Guillermo del Toro finally will be bringing his vision of Carlo Collodi tale of Pinocchio to audiences around the world on Netflix. Set in the 1930’s Italy, a time when the country was the rule of Benito Mussolini and the National Facist Party, we follow Master Geppetto, an Italian woodcarver who, after a tragic loss, who manages to carve a puppet from a pine tree. That night, a Wood Sprite gives life to the puppet who will we all know as Pinocchio.
In the films first ten to fifteen minutes, del Toro and fellow co-director Mark Gustafson (a veteran stop-motion director, who also makes his directorial feature debut here), and fellow co-writer Patrick McHale, bring forth Collodi’s 19th Century tale into the period of the Great War and give us a glimpse into Geppetto’s life before the war as a ‘model citizen’, alongside his son Carlo. It gives us glimpse to the beautiful stop-motion animation on display, as well as how finely crafted the characters are that they bring to life. Make no mistake however that del Toro and McHale’s script wastes no time in telling audiences that this won’t be the cute tale of Pinocchio that you are used to, as tragedy befalls Geppetto and in one night, in a drunken rage, he chops down a pine tree and carves a wooden boy from it. This sequence in particular is sequenced in a way that I’m sure will have drawn comparison to Frankenstein and when the boy comes to life as Pinocchio, that sequence is also played out like a horror film.
While we do get the odd musical number now and then during the course of the film, del Toro and McHale focuses more on tackling a number of themes of loss, loneliness, life, death, and what lies beyond. The designs of the sets are wonderfully constructed, with particular attention to detail in the scale of the town that Geppetto resides at, to the carnival that Pinocchio ends up working at. Audiences familiar will notice a few changes to the tale that they know, with the Coachman character being replaced here by Podesta, a fascist government official who is keen on Pinocchio to be recruited as a soldier, forcing him to go to a military training camp. Also looking to use Pinocchio for their own benefit is ringmaster Count Volpe, who is looking to use him as an act for his own financial gain.
On a directorial, production and editing standpoint I can’t fault the film, it’s a technical marvel. I will say that a few things didn’t work for me: The songs in particular somewhat feel misplaced or just felt out of place. In some instances the middle act did feel to slightly drag, particularly with the carnival, it just felt repetitive. However, the film really comes together in the final act and if you feel that the film is lacking heart, then you’ll surely find it there. The following voice cast were particular standouts in this film. David Bradley gives a great performance as Geppetto, from doting father, to grief-stricken drunkard, to the imperfect father, he really sunk his teeth in the role and I really liked his portrayal of the character. As for Gregory Mann’s performance as the wooden boy with a soul, from his disobedience to his naive wonder to every little thing, he was really good in the role. Ewan McGregor shows a tremendous amount of gusto in the role as Sebastian J. Cricket, as he narrates the story, mentioning how he was set to write his memoirs until he is brought into the story of Pinocchio…as he happens to life in the pine tree that Geppetto would end up chopping down.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a wonderfully crafted piece of art from del Toro and Mark Gustafson, tackling themes of mature nature that you wouldn’t expect, yet in the end you can’t help but be moved by.