Movie review: 'Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio' finds new heart, depth in classic

Geppetto warns Pinocchio what will happen if he lies. Photo courtesy of Netflix
Geppetto warns Pinocchio what will happen if he lies. Photo courtesy of Netflix

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, which screened Saturday at the Animation Is Film Festival in Los Angeles, is a mature, heartbreaking, beautiful take on the classic fairy tale. Going back to the roots of the Carlo Collodi novel opens up new themes.

In WWI era Italy, Geppetto (voice of David Bradley) loves his 10-year-old son, Carlo (Gregory Mann). Carlo helps his father work on the crucifix for the local church.


Carlo is so sweet. He loves the clogs Geppetto made for him and the storybook Geppetto gave him for school. So it's heartbreaking when Carlo dies in a bombing of the church, a very real tragedy before the fantasy to come.

Geppetto buries Carlo with a pinecone Carlo had found, and a pine tree grows over the years. Some time circa WWII, Geppetto chops down the tree and carves Pinocchio (also Mann) in a drunken rage.


When Pinocchio comes to life, thanks to the magic of forest sprites, Geppetto's initial reaction is revulsion. The first steps Pinocchio takes are rather monstrous, but that's the point.

A carved wooden puppet coming to life is freaky, especially when the nails in his back are still showing, but Pinocchio's behavior and personality gradually endear him to Geppetto. Pinocchio endears himself to the audience much more quickly.

Pinocchio comes to life as a rambunctious child, skipping right over the infant and toddler phase. He's so excited to go to church when Geppetto tells him to wait at home,

Pinocchio still encounters carny Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) who tricks him into performing for his puppet show. Pinocchio is so naive, he just wants to help provide for Geppetto and doesn't understand Volpe is tricking him.

So Pinocchio becomes a series of fires Geppetto has to put out, including when he literally catches fire. Even more so than the Disney version, this Pinocchio highlights the responsibility that comes with having a real child.

This is different for Geppetto. Carlo was well behaved, but he also had 10 years of parenting.

Geppetto only had a few days with Pinocchio so you can't cram a whole childhood of lessons into a few days. It's hard enough getting through to kids over the course of 18 years.


Because of this, Geppetto remains hesitant to call Pinocchio his son. This Pinocchio interrupted Geppetto's years of grief over Carlo, so Geppetto wasn't exactly sitting around waiting for another son.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio trusts audiences, young or old, to deal with themes like grief and death without talking down to them. Pinocchio also visits an underworld afterlife that is very simpatico with del Toro's other work.

The World Wars are not just period settings either. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio deals with them head on.

The Gestapo officers in town do the Hitler salute, stopping short of literally saying, "Sieg heil." But, Mussolini is explicitly represented in the film.

This was a volatile time in history so any joys could be just as easily juxtaposed against horrors. That's probably true of any time in history.

There is still comedy throughout Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor) takes a slapstick beating Geppetto does some pratfalls too, and Pinocchio has a knack for potty humor.

The stop-motion figures are beautiful, especially the faces of human figures. They have natural movements, like Geppetto tucking Carlo into bed, rather than flamboyant gestures.

The detail is so exquisite that animators moved drops of rain down their bodies frame by frame. When they get to the ocean, just imagine the work it took to move the vast ocean frame by frame.


Guilermo del Toro's Pinocchio is still a musical. The all new songs by Alexandre Desplat sound like a child making up a song as he goes along, rather than Disney songwriters.

Sebastian's songs keep getting cut off in another running gag.

Del Toro, who co-directed with Mark Gustafson, was never going to do a simplistic singing puppet movie. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio displays the director of Pan's Labyrinth and The Shape of Water's grasp of profound themes with a sense of macabre whimsy.

Netflix will release Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio in theaters in November and on Netflix Dec. 9.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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