The story of Pinocchio has been told various times through various mediums, studios, and countries. So why would you want to watch a film telling a story that’s been done time and time again, you may wonder. The sole reason is that Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant mind is behind it. del Toro and Mark Gustafson direct “Pinocchio,” which features the voices of Gregory Mann, David Bradley, Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Finn Wolfhard and Cate Blanchett. It follows a man who must look after a wooden boy that has magically come to life.
Academy Award-winning director del Toro’s take on this story is by far the best iteration. Not only is this version the most magical, heartfelt and riveting, but it’s visually stunning with its unique character designs. On top of that, we add the aspect that it’s stop-motion animation. A project that was 15 years in the making has finally seen the light of day, and it’s not only the best-animated film of 2022, but one of the best movies to be released in recent years. It’s mind-boggling to even try to comprehend that del Toro has delivered yet another masterful film.
I will never see a pine cone the same ever again, thanks to this film. Carlo finds a pine cone to bury it and grow into a pine cone tree. That tree comes to fruition after Carlo is killed in an accident. That same tree gets cut down one dark rainy, gloomy night as Geppetto mourns the loss of Carlo. So in a close recreation of Frankenstein, Geppetto carves the tree into a wooden boy, a boy who may hopefully replace Carlo. It’s in these sequences where the mastermind of del Toro is the most prevalent. To parallel the creation of Pinocchio with that of Frankenstein is brilliant and our first sign that this film isn’t necessarily aimed towards young children.
What distinguishes this film from previous adaptations is the depth of the story, when and where it takes place, and its visuals. Del Toro is a visual storyteller and his work demands close attention to the meticulous details he presents. For example, Geppetto is drunk when he’s making Pinocchio, and this is emphasized by the asymmetrical design of the wooden boy. Pinocchio has only one ear and a semi-design of hair texture while the other side doesn’t. He manages to animate the most ordinary things that at times I’d forget I was watching an animated movie. The script is so smartly written with its thought-provoking discussions about love, war, death and our purpose in life. Setting this story during WWI in Italy allows for these conversations, and some sequences are even reminiscent of del Toro’s past films like “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001) and “Pan Labyrinth” (2006).
This is a beautiful story about fathers and sons, about how their imperfections are human qualities we all carry. Pinocchio is unapologetically himself and learns his lessons the hard way, but he doesn’t change his core self to please others. His genuine naivete and sense of wonder add to the believability of his relationship with Geppetto. Now Sebastian J Cricket is the narrator throughout, and Ewan McGregor brings such complexity to this character with his vocal performance. Initially, Sebastian comes across as a self-centered righteous writer who finds residency in the tree that eventually becomes Pinocchio. His evolution is a tender one to witness, and his nonconventional depiction makes him a beloved character.
Alexander Desplat’s score further accentuates the magical feel and emotionally moving aspects of this story. “Ciao Papa” is beautifully written and memorably performed by Gregory Mann. When you see it in the film with full context, it’s even more heartbreaking.
I often stop and reflect on the reality that I get the chance to live in the same time period as future icons. We are lucky to live at the same time as Guillermo del Toro. Let that sink in.
Overall, “Pinocchio” is one of the best films released this year. A beautiful depiction of love, war, life, death, purpose and self-assurance. All told through the mind of one of the masters of storytelling.