Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

For second time this year, just as we’ve all been clamoring for since 1940, we have another new take on the classic story of Pinocchio. Unlike the Tom Hanks/Robert Zemeckis version, which received almost universal hate from critics and audiences alike, this one comes from of cinema’s most unique storytellers in Guillermo del Toro. Early reviews and reactions have been mostly positive and the film has garnered awards attention for more than just Best Animated Feature. While visually impressive and sprinkled with del Toro’s signature storytelling beats after the film was done I had only one thing on my mind: who is this for?

Fans of del Toro will swoon over the visuals of the film. Whether its Pinocchio’s unique appearance, some of the finest stop-motion work ever put on screen, or the insane attention to detail on each and every character and set piece, the film’s animation deserves all the praise it will receive. However, as visually striking as the film may be it’s the story and tone that falls a bit flat for me. Certainly darker than its Disney predecessors, the film takes several creative liberties. Most notably the setting changes from the 1800’s to Mussolini’s Italy. Fascism hanging over the story of the wooden boy is a strange decision that never seems to fit quite right. In fact, I’d say the weakest parts of the film are those that focus on Pinocchio learning why war is bad. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write but here we are. These more mature themes may resonate with adults but at the end of the day Pinocchio is a children’s story and there’s not much in the film that children can enjoy.

The film is at its strongest in the first hour or so, particularly when we learn of Gepetto’s (voiced by David Bradley) background as a father who lost his son during The Great War. It’s an interesting take on a familiar character, showing that Pinocchio was created out of grief rather than love. By the middle of the roughly two-hour run time del Toro begins forcing storylines, visually impressive as they may be. The film also can drag out thanks to a series of creepy earworm songs that will leave you begging for “When You Wish Upon A Star” as a palate cleanser.

I’m not trying to be a negative Nancy here because on a binary “was it good or bad?” scale I’d definitely say it was worth watching. The attention to detail and the degree del Toro and his team go to with the animation is absolutely incredible. In fact, this is the longest stop-motion film ever produced. Your move, Wes Anderson. The decision to go with a more mature storyline doesn’t always fit but it’s certainly a refreshing take after whatever it was Tom Hanks was doing a few months back. The voice acting ensemble also deserves plenty of credit as well. Bradley, from Game of Thrones fame, is the perfect choice for Pinocchio and the rest of the cast includes Ewan McGregor as Cricket, Christoph Waltz, Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman, Tilda Swinton, Finn Wolfhard, Tim Blake Nelson, and Gregory Mann as Pinocchio.

I fully expect this film to be a heavy contender in the awards season. It’s a lock for a Best Animated Feature nomination though it will be interesting to see how it contends with something like Marcel The Shell With Shoes On or Turning Red. In my original predictions I thought it could sneak its way into the Best Picture race. I still do thought I’m less confident in this now even if del Toro’s alone can drag it into contention. Don’t be surprised if the film also finds itself in both the music categories and possibly Best Adapted Screenplay.

In short, the film looks incredible though it may overstay its welcome. The original songs can be rough at points, not every storyline fits perfectly, and there is an element of “what is going on?” throughout the film. That being said, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a visual achievement that should be praised. The film is currently available on Netflix.

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