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One of the Best Adaptations of Tale

Jan 7, 2023


The world doesn’t need any more Pinocchio stories. Sorry everyone, we’re all full up. While Carlo Collodi’s story of the woodcarver Geppetto and his wooden boy come to life have led to some great adaptations (Disney’s 1940 Pinocchio), and some wonderful reimaginings (Steven Spielberg’s greatly underrated A.I. Artificial Intelligence), in recent years, we’ve had enough of Pinocchio. We didn’t need Disney’s nightmarish live-action remake of their 1940 film earlier this year, and we certainly haven’t needed two different adaptations starring Roberto Benigni. But leave it to Guillermo del Toro to take this classic children’s fantasy story and find new life in it, showing new angles to this almost 140-year-old story.

We all know the story of Pinocchio, about the lonely craftsman Geppetto (here voiced by David Bradley) who one night carves a wooden boy, Pinocchio (Gregory Mann), who he finds has come to life the next morning. With the help of a cricket/conscience (Ewan McGregor), Pinocchio is handed many choices and trials in order to understand the difficulties of life, before becoming a real boy himself.

But what makes this version—directed by del Toro and Mark Gustafson—so essential to this story is how it fills in the blanks of this story, presents even weightier moral examinations, and brings a very real and human reaction to what could easily be seen as a horror tale at times. While most Pinocchio stories begin with Geppetto and his solitude, this Pinocchio—written by del Toro and Adventure Time’s Patrick McHale—starts by showing the audience Geppetto’s life leading up to the creation of Pinocchio.

Image via Netflix

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Most importantly, we see Geppetto’s life with his son, Carlo (also voiced by Gregory Mann). By taking the time to understand this relationship and the love between this father and son, it enlightens this Pinocchio story in an entirely new way. Before the true story even begins, we are shown the staggering heartbreak, desperation, and unending love that causes Geppetto to need his son back, to the point that he’ll make a wooden facsimile. It may seem like a minor addition, but it’s a choice that illuminates the rest of this story in a fascinating way.

As this is a del Toro story, one that the writer-director has been trying to get made for over a decade, naturally, we see the darkness inherent in this story. When Geppetto first sees that this wooden boy has come to life, thanks to the magic of the Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton), he isn’t excited, but rather, he is understandably terrified by what is happening. Del Toro also shows the frustrations of fatherhood, as Pinocchio constantly asks him what things do or what different things mean, to the point that Geppetto simply has to request that there are no more questions. Del Toro and McHale’s script isn’t just showing the joys of fatherhood, which we do eventually get, but they’re also showing the overwhelming fear and exhaustion that also comes with becoming a parent.

Another addition, albeit less successful than these other choices, is the decision to place Pinocchio in 1930s Fascist Italy. Like del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, where we saw how adding fascism into a fairy tale can be an interesting dichotomy for this type of story, but it’s not as well executed here. Instead of going to Pleasure Island this time around, Pinocchio is forcibly sent to a fascist camp for kids—which also takes away the rebellious choice made by Pinocchio to choose fun over what he’s been told. While this background does present a somewhat interesting and danger-filled scenario for these characters, it’s ultimately not adding much to this story.

Image via Netflix

At the very least, this does give us another interesting wrinkle, which is that Pinocchio can die, but he will ultimately return from death. Not only does this make Pinocchio a valuable commodity as a potentially unkillable soldier to the fascist government official Podestà (Ron Perlman), but it allows Pinocchio time to consider his actions, ask questions about life, and ultimately, sets up the surprisingly emotional conclusion where the wooden boy has to make the toughest choice of his days-old life.

In what has ended up being a great year for stop-motion animation, with The House, Wendell & Wild, and Mad God, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio stands out as by far the most gorgeous of these films. From the details on Geppetto’s beard to the gorgeous ocean landscapes, it’s almost hard to believe that Pinocchio was painstakingly moved by hand to create such awe-inspiring animation.

This is also an impeccably chosen voice cast. Bradley’s gruff voice matches what Geppetto needs perfectly, and only makes the moments where sweetness and love come out even more impactful. Mann is excellent as both Pinocchio and Carlo, showing exuberance and almost wearying joy over this new world he’s been brought into. But Mann manages to play Pinocchio in a way where he never grows irritating, but rather, we understand why this character would be so excited by this new world, to the point of draining everyone around him. Christoph Waltz is also a brilliant choice for the theatrical Count Volpe, who tricks Pinocchio into joining his show, with buoyancy in this voice that makes him both an appealing choice, but also a questionable one. Even the smaller characters have incredible talents behind them. For example, Count Volpe’s monkey assistant Spazzatura is voiced by Cate Blanchett of all people, while actors like John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and Finn Wolfhard fill in smaller roles.

Image via Netflix

But it’s Ewan McGregor who truly stands out as Sebastian J. Cricket, who inadvertently gets wrapped up into the story of Pinocchio and Geppetto, attempting to help Pinocchio learn what is right. McGregor brings a liveliness and excitement to this role, and makes this character more well-rounded and interesting on his own than he’s ever been. Much of that comes from McGregor’s excitement and passion as the character, and McGregor turns the cricket into more than just a sidekick on this adventure through this performance.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio shows that if you’re going to adapt this story yet again, it’s best to bring something exciting and new to it, as well as put some of your own personality into it. While some of Pinocchio’s new ideas don’t entirely work, it’s the dedication to more fully exploring these characters and their origins as people and not as assistants in Pinocchio’s story that makes this the best adaptation since Disney’s 1940 animated version.

Rating: B+

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio comes to Netflix on December 9.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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