Guillermo del Toro: Pinocchio

Like probably a lot of people, my first exposure to Pinocchio was via Disney’s 1940 animated film. I watched it as a child and didn’t particularly care for it––even as a little girl I had a strong dislike for characters that made obviously poor decisions. I also remember it being terribly sad. So when I heard that Guillermo del Toro was making a version, I didn’t pay much attention. Why would I want to watch another version of the same sad story?

When I found out it was going to be stop motion animation, that made me take a second look. And I’m very glad that I did.

I cannot think of a story more suited for stop motion animation than that of a handcrafted puppet come to life. Every aspect of a stop motion film is handmade, from the making of the puppets and sets to the animation through shot after shot with tiny adjustments, either through moving the face and body of the puppet, or replacing the face, or both. In this, del Toro, co-director Mark Gustafson (who was the animation director for Fantastic Mr. Fox), and their crew did an absolutely amazing job. The detail, the way the shots are lit, and the way the puppets move are all done flawlessly in a way that befits the characters and themes of the film.

I was thrilled to see that there is a “making of” for this film, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio: Handcarved Cinema, that goes behind the scenes with del Toro and the cast and crew and shows us how they made the puppets and the world. Check out the Behind the Craft snippet to see a bit of what to expect in the longer documentary. I was surprised to learn that this Pinocchio was the first stop motion film puppet to be 3D printed. I would have expected that it would be a common way to do things, now that we have the technology, but also expected that as the one puppet meant to look like a puppet, that he would be the least technologically advanced of the puppet cast. It absolutely makes sense, though, with the way his face moves when animated, and it was clearly the right way to go.

Storywise, del Toro’s Pinocchio is a very different take on Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio than the Disney version. While del Toro’s Pinocchio makes a number of questionable decisions, the driver behind them is clear, and he becomes a character the viewer can easily connect with and root for. The story is dark, maybe darker than the original or any of the adaptations, yet it doesn’t feel sad to me. I think it’s because this Pinocchio isn’t so much a moral tale about being a good boy as it is a look at what honesty and love can do in the face of grief and loss, and what they give us––connection. The relationships between the characters, and how they change each other, is what shines here.

Del Toro has said in interviews that he relates to outsider characters, and that comes across in this film. Like Geppetto, the cricket, and the townsfolk, we initially see Pinocchio as strange and unlike us. But as the film progresses, that perspective shifts. Through (beautifully written) words and actions, and a pure honesty of heart, Pinocchio brings us over to his side, so that we can see the world through his eyes.

I really enjoyed the interviews del Toro has done on this film, including a segment on the Tonight Show, and one on CBS Sunday Morning where he refers to stop motion as “like milking a mummified cow.” Netflix also released a YouTube short on the voice acting. Even seeing them side-by-side, my brain cannot seem to reconcile Ewan McGregor as the voice of the cricket. But it’s him, and he’s phenomenal in the role. All of the acting in this film is really well done.

If you’ve seen the film, or the “Making Of”, let me know what you think!

P.S. If you’re on the fence about watching this, you should, if for no other reason than the death rabbits. Yep, death rabbits. They are amazing.

2 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Robinreply
December 27, 2022 at 6:59 pm

Thanks for this review! I also had no interest in seeing this film because of my experience with the Disney version but you’ve made me reconsider.

Wander Girlreply
December 30, 2022 at 5:09 pm
– In reply to: Robin

I really loved it, especially the second half. And the animation is gorgeous!

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