Andrea’s film review – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali

Director Guillermo del Toro presents a darker version of the classic children’s fairy tale of a wooden puppet transformed into a real living boy. Available to watch on Netflix in December.

Before I start talking about this new adaptation Pinocchio, I should probably start by telling you a little bit about my relationship with the actual original book.

Of course being Italian I’ve grown up with notion of this being one of the pillars of our literature (and not just for children). After all, this is the third most translated books in history, after the Bible and the Little Prince.

As it happens it is also the very first one I’ve ever read… and re-read many times over to the point that I’ve even learnt the first few chapters by heart. It is also the first book I’ve read to my son.

So basically, all this to tell you how much I love it. And because of that love, I’ve always been particularly critical about pretty much all movie adaptations, including the classic Disney animated version from the 1940.

I remember even as a child thinking that it was way too different from the original book and it seemed to miss the real point of the story. It would be many decades later that I’d able to appreciate it for the masterpiece of animation that it is.

Ironically this latest incarnation, in beautifully rendered stop-motion animation, is, at least on paper, the version which most radically seems to diverge from the original source, particularly in the third act, but it not only ends up being the one which is closest in spirit, but also it’s the one I loved the most.

Del Toro is not slavish to the text, but he understands the source material and has a sharp innate sense of what Pinocchio is like, what he represents and the world he lives in.

Without getting too much into spoilers, some of the changes are pretty radical, including what happens at the very end, but the most obvious ones are to do with its timeline. Carlo Collodi wrote the story in 1883, but del Toro centres it at the height of the fascism in Italy in the late 1930s.

War is looming and graffiti on walls constantly reminds us about “Il duce”.

Del Toro goes as far as making Mussolini one of the characters (Yes, you heard me right!) and has Pinocchio performing in front of him. But before you start screaming “heresy!”, this is actually a perfect translation of settings for the story of a kid who’s refusing to obeying the rules (or in this case, the regime’s orders).

Del Toro may be sharing the director’s credit with Mark Gustafson, an experienced animator director (in films like the Fantastic Mr Fox), but his finger prints are all over this.

Not for nothing does the official title of the film uses his name. The fact that film is dedicated to his mother says everything we need to know, this is clearly his film.

The wartime setting, the heavy religious symbolism, the recurring theme of going against authoritarian regimes, all of these are present is many of his films.

And of course the design of some of the characters, some of which could easily have been taken straight out of Pan’s Labyrinth and the overall darkness in which the whole film in drenched are some of his most recognisable trademarks.

Of course the original book never shied away from darkness and death either.

Disney might have cotton-candied some of the dark edges of the story, leaving us with the impression that this is a cuddly tale, but the originally contained coffins, deaths, hangings, assassins, starvation, poverty…

In one of my creepiest moments from the book, Pinocchio, wet and muddy, knocks on a door at night looking for shelter as he’s being chased by some dark assassins, all wrapped up in black bags, armed with big knives, looking to kill him and steal his money.

A woman shows up at a window on the first floor and says with a voice that sounds like it’s coming from another world “Nobody’s home: they’re all dead”.

Pinocchio surprised asks “What about you? You are there! Why don’t you come down and open the door?” She puts her hands on her chest and says “I’m dead too: I’m just waiting for the coffin to come and pick up…”.

I mean…bloody hell!! I was traumatised for years!!

I am digressing a bit, but Del Toro’s film has the same feel of that scene throughout. Death is constantly present in his version: Geppetto is not the lovely carefree wood carver we are used to see, but a heart-broken, grief-stricken old man who’s now a drunk and lost soul, after his real only son Carlo was killed by a bomb during the war. His reason for making Pinocchio in wood is to try to bring back his son to life, at least in a puppet.

There are also depictions of the underworld, governed by a monster, which seems to be a darker twin of the “fairy” (I use the inverted commas, because in this version he’s a strange creature too). And there are also coffins, in which Pinocchio wakes up every time he gets killed in the real world.

So you get the idea: it is a dark tale! But don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of humour too, and warmth and love and beautiful scenery and poetry and however heart-breaking this might be (especially for grown-ups), this is still a story for children, with good lessons to learn and a loving father-son relationship at its heart.

I loved it.

Unfortunately you’re going to have to wait until December for this to come out on Netflix, but believe me it’s worth the wait.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

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