“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” was co-written and co-directed by, of course, Guillermo del Toro. It’s a reinterpretation of the classic story, this time set in Mussolini’s Italy and with more mature themes than ever before. Pinocchio stars Gregory Mann as the title character, alongside Ewan McGregor as Sebastian J. Cricket, David Bradley as Geppetto, Christoph Waltz as Count Volpe, and many others.
What I love most about this film is how much of a soul it has. When watching it, it’s evident how much effort and passion was poured in. The story is incredibly emotional and clearly dear to del Toro’s heart. The animation has such a humanity to it. The painstaking years of effort (literally over 1,000 days) in crafting all of this gorgeous stop-motion is an admirable feat and one which makes the audience appreciate the film even more. There’s so much life in each model’s design. You feel the pain in Gepetto just by the face of the puppet. You feel the hopefulness in Pinocchio’s great smile. Additionally, many of the designs are cleverly original. For example, in the story, Pinocchio was crafted by Gepetto on a drunken tirade. In the behind-the-scenes-documentary, Del Toro explained that one side of Pinocchio’s face is more symmetrical and well-constructed than the other because Geppetto simply gave up on perfecting the model midway through.
The narrative is truly epic. Pinocchio travels all across Italy, making friends and enemies along the way. He changes the lives of those he meets on his path, using his hopefulness to help them break free from their struggles or the people holding them back. It’s an inspiring tale that uses its massive scale to explore themes rather than create spectacle.
Yet while the story is inspiring and jovial at times, it can also be incredibly dark. Ultimately, it is a film about death which explores why mortality gives life true meaning. Pinocchio doesn’t only learn more about human nature along his journey, but the importance of life’s impermanence.
It’s important to mention the performances here, as they’re absolutely incredible. Thankfully, Gregory Mann is actually likable as Pinocchio. Going into films starring child actors, I always prepare for the worst. About 97% of the time they’re parasites who destroy the momentum and immersion the story. But Mann doesn’t do that at all. He’s a generous and collaborative actor that captures the innocence of his character without coming off as annoying or obnoxious. It’s a brilliant performance.
Ewan McGreggor is another standout as Sebastian J. Cricket, the curmudgeonly narrator. He’s the funniest character in the film, especially in the running gag where he gets stepped on or something falls on him, to which he usually says, “Oh, the pain,” as if he’s Sideshow Bob from “The Simpsons.” Yet he’s not just a comic relief character. He’s very much the audience’s perspective, and while he may be slightly arrogant and self-obsessed, he’s ultimately a kind, wise soul. He also has his own arc in the film where he learns to be less self-centered, culminating in a tough decision at the end.
But the standout is absolutely David Bradley as Geppetto. What a performance. He’s able to emit a wide range of emotions just by shifting the pitch of his voice. There’s a great tragic nature to his portrayal and he’s by far the most sympathetic interpretation of the character. He’s the heart of the film and is just as much of a main character as Pinocchio. I don’t know the exact screen time of the two characters, but it felt as if they had about the same amount. Geppetto has just as many emotions, character beats, and journeys as Pinocchio, to the point where he becomes almost more significant than the title character. I think that his characterization and presence throughout the entire film is what makes this version stand out most.
If I had to nitpick the film, I’d say it needed to be trimmed. It’s a whopping two hours long and it could’ve easily been cut down by ten or fifteen minutes. There’s some pacing issues here, most notably in the second act.
Simply put, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is astonishing. It’ll make you laugh, cry, shout, and jump up from your seat. Del Toro crafted an incredibly emotional roller coaster that’s refreshingly concerned more with its exploration of themes and characters than action or nostalgia bait. It’s everything Disney’s new live-action “Pinocchio” isn’t. There’s heart, passion, and originality in del Toro’s film, whereas Disney made another soulless piece of content that further proves why it’s the worst studio in Hollywood today.