Geppetto warns Pinocchio what will happen if he lies. Photo courtesy of Netflix
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 29 (UPI) — Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro, which screened Saturday at the Animation Is Film Festival in Los Angeles, is a mature, heartbreaking and beautiful take on the classic fairy tale. Going back to the roots of Carlo Collodi’s novel opens up new themes.
In World War I-era Italy, Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) loves his 10-year-old son, Carlo (Gregory Mann). Carlo helps his father work on the local church’s crucifix.
Carlo is so nice. 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 church bombing, a very real tragedy before the fantasy to come.
Geppetto buries Carlo with a pine cone that Carlo had found, and a pine grows over the years. Around World War II, Geppetto cuts down the tree and carves Pinocchio (also Mann) in a drunken rage.
When Pinocchio comes to life, thanks to the magic of the forest goblins, Geppetto’s first reaction is revulsion. Pinocchio’s first steps are rather monstrous, but that’s the point.
A carved wooden puppet coming to life is creepy, especially when the nails in his back are still visible, but Pinocchio’s demeanor and personality gradually endear him to Geppetto. Pinocchio is loved by the public much faster.
Pinocchio comes to life as an exuberant child, skipping the infant and toddler phase. He is so excited to go to church when Geppetto tells him to wait at home,
Pinocchio still meets Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) who tricks him into performing for his puppet show. Pinocchio is so naive that he just wants to help support Geppetto and doesn’t understand that Volpe is cheating on him.
Thus, Pinocchio becomes a series of fires that Geppetto must 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.
It’s different for Geppetto. Carlo did well, but he also had 10 years of parenthood.
Geppetto only had a few days with Pinocchio, so you can’t cram an entire childhood of lessons into a few days. It’s hard enough reaching kids for 18 years.
For this reason, Geppetto hesitates 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.
Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro trusts audiences, young or old, to address themes like grief and death without speaking scornfully to them. Pinocchio also visits an underworld that is very similar to del Toro’s other works.
The World Wars are not just period settings. Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro deal with them head-on.
Gestapo officers in town give the Hitler salute, pausing before literally saying “Sieg heil”. But Mussolini is explicitly represented in the film.
It was a volatile time in history, so all the joys could be just as easily juxtaposed with the horrors. This is probably true at any point in history.
There’s always comedy everywhere Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro. Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor) takes a slapstick beating Geppetto also takes a few falls, 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 putting Carlo into bed, rather than flamboyant gestures.
The detail is so exquisite that the animators moved raindrops onto their bodies frame by frame. When they get to the ocean, imagine the work it took to move the vast ocean frame by frame.
Pinocchio by Guilermo del Toro is still a musical. Alexandre Desplat’s all-new songs sound like a kid making a song as they go, rather than Disney songwriters.
Sebastian’s songs continue to be cut in another running gag.
Del Toro, who co-directed with Mark Gustafson, was never going to make a simplistic singing puppet movie. Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro displays the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and The shape of waters capture deep themes with a sense of macabre fantasy.
Netflix will release Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro in theaters in November and on Netflix on December 9.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a Los Angeles-based UPI entertainment writer. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Learn more about his work in Entertainment.