Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – Movie Review

TL;DR – A work of art that hits on every emotional level from start to finish.    

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene

Disclosure – I paid for the Netflix service that viewed this film.

Pinocchio but just a puppet.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio Review

Some names instantly intrigue you when you hear they are attached to a project. Which is entirely what happened when I heard that Guillermo del Toro was going to make a Pinocchio film. This alone was enough to interest me. Then you discover that it will be an animated film, not just that, a stop-motion animation film, and the masters of puppets, The Jim Henson Company, will produce it. Well, that is a combination that could not be missed, and I am fundamentally glad I watched it.   

 So to set the scene, master craftsman Geppetto (David Bradley) lost his only child Calro (Gregory Mann), during the Great War when he was only ten years old. A stray bomb destroyed the church that they were working in, and it is a loss that he has never recovered from. Sometime later, Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), a travelling cricket, came to live in the tree planted at Carlo’s grave and watched as a drunk Geppetto laments over his lost son. But as that is happening, some old spirits from the forest who typically ignore humanity hear the pleas of the grieving father and when he cuts down the pine tree that was planted at the grave to turn it into a puppet. So The Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) looks over the creation and then brings that puppet Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) to life.   

Pinocchio doing a dance.
Pinocchio is a character full of joy and exuberance. Image Credit: Netflix.

Without a doubt, we cannot start this review without talking about the animation. To say that this stop-animation is flawless, I feel, is almost an understatement. You see and almost feel every detail, every movement, every emotion. Every part of this film comes to life thanks to the animation, every human, every cricket, every monkey, and puppet. Along with the stop-motion animation are all the other areas that the talented artists bring the film to life, including exquisite lighting and detailed environments. You feel you are in a small Italian town in the early 20th century because all these departments are working together to make it happen. From an alpine village to the gut of a giant sea monster, it all works.  

I was expecting the film to have a strong animation core, but I was not expecting it to stab me in the heart. I am not overstating. Three minutes into this film and I was already crying my eyes out. There is so much expression in the puppets that you can’t help but get captured in the wake of their emotions. Then there are also the performances that cut to the core. David Bradley broke my heart here. You feel that terrible joy in his performance, someone who once had, once lost, and now found again. You desperately want to hold on to it, so you don’t lose it again, but holding tight might lose the thing you treasure. Gregory Mann captures so many different emotions in his performance as a boy trying to find his way in a world that he does not quite understand as everyone else puts their wants and needs on him. Ewan McGregor almost becomes a punching bag throughout the film, but even that works. And it should be no surprise that Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, Christoph Waltz, and frankly, the whole supporting cast give stunning performances to strengthen the central narrative.     

Geppetto looks down on his creation Pinocchio.
This is a film full of conflicting emotions. Image Credit: Netflix.

I loved how the film blends genres with a deft hand. We can shift from drama to comedy to horror to a musical number in the space of a sequence. You can see the filmmakers’ experience on show when what would have been played for jokes in another film used horror elements here, and it worked without ever going too far. Having a slapstick gothic film is an odd choice, but it completely works. That works because this genre-shifting reinforces the narrative and characters. Geppetto is a man full of grief, and his actions speak of someone who is not in their right mind but at the bottom of a bottle. Not only is Pinocchio a child, but he is also a child that has just come to life, so his actions speak of that. Every part of the film reinforces the rest, and it is a better film because of it.    

There are many themes in play here that we explore throughout the film. There are some that you would expect, given the subject material. These are discussions about what it means to be alive, how we can exploit or undermine our children, and how you can struggle to live up to your parent’s expectations. This, of course, touches on several religious themes that the film does not shy away from, even if they approach it with Guillermo del Toro’s trademark style. I was not expecting an exploration of fascism and the destruction that follows in its wake. Benito Mussolini (Tom Kenny) is a tiny vein man, and the local Podestà (Ron Perlman) is willing to throw his own son to the wolves for a monstrous organisation. It was during these parts that I got hints of Studio Ghibli’s Porco Rosso, one of my favourite films of theirs.     

The Wood Sprite brings Pinocchio to life.
It is full of iconography that you would expect to see in a Guillermo del Toro film. Image Credit: Netflix.

In the end, do we recommend Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio? Absolutely. I would recommend this film for the animation alone, an animation that captures the fluidity of moment and perfectly reflects a time and place. But more than that, this film touched me emotionally in a way that few films have this year. Did it meander a little in the middle? Yes. Did I care? Absolutely not. If you liked Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, we would recommend to you Luca.

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

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Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Directed by
– Guillermo del Toro & Mark Gustafson
Story by – Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins
Screenplay by – Guillermo del Toro & Patrick McHale
Based onThe Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Music/Lyrics by – Alexandre Desplat, Roeban Katz, Patrick McHale & Guillermo del Toro
Cinematography by – Frank Passingham
Edited by – Ken Schretzmann & Holly Klein
Production/Distribution Companies – Netflix Animation, Double Dare You!, ShadowMachine, The Jim Henson Company, Taller del Chucho & Netflix
Starring – Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton & Tom Kenny
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13

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