Pinocchio has been a stalwart of the Disney library for many years When You Wish Upon a Star is a song that Disney is synonymous with. Ever since the original all those years ago there have been a few other incarnations of this classic tale of a little wooden boy who wants to be real and his father who wanted a son. Disney even made a live-action version earlier this year. Starring Tom Hanks as Geppetto. Another version of this story has been created this year for Netflix by Academy Award Winning director Guillermo Del Toro. This version is completely different from the others. It’s a stop-motion marvel that is a genuine masterpiece of filmmaking by a true auteur filmmaker.
Geppetto (David Bradley) is an old man who has a good life in Italy on the brink of WWII. Until his son is killed in a church by a bomb released by a fighter jet. Distraught, he cuts down a big pine tree on the outskirts of town and he makes a little wooden boy. He wishes that he can have a son again. So a wood sprite (Tilda Swinton) comes in the middle of the night while he’s asleep and grants his wish and brings the little wooden boy to life. While all this is going on a little cricket (Ewan McGregor) who lives in the boy has to become a conscience for little Pinocchio (Gregory Mann). Which he is named after the wood sprite gives him life.
Like the classic Disney film from 1940 Pinocchio goes on adventures and comes under the tutelage of a man who runs a carnival show. In this case, it’s Count Volpe (Christophe Waltz) He has altier motives for taking this boy under his wing. But first Pinocchio must go to school to learn mathematics and reading as decreed by Podesta (Ron Perlman) the town leader. Pinocchio needs some seasoning as a boy. He’s not into school though and runs off with the carnival showman and his monkey (Cate Blanchett) Despite what his conscience says.
This version of this classic tale is rooted in reality though as it is set in a world of war-torn Italy. Like a lot of Del Toro’s fantasy films, this one has a little reality mixed into the story. Like Pan’s Labyrinth has a subplot of the Spanish Civil War mixed in with its magical story. The realistic storyline helps make the story much more filled with gravity. It is a weight on the film. Which makes the decisions of this little boy and his father more serious. This version of the classic tale plays on more important subject matter than the other hand-drawn films. Which makes it a better movie overall.
This is the first animated film by acclaimed director Del Toro, but he does his usual preparation with it like he has done his entire career. He prepares by doing drawings and artist renditions of the world and the characters he is creating. This stop-motion animation is some of the best I have ever seen. This year acclaimed director Henry Selick made another stop-motion film for Netflix Wendell and Wild which is garnering a lot of awards consideration. What Del Toro does with Pinocchio tops that achievement. This animation mixes visual effects and stop motion and they are seamless. I couldn’t tell a difference between where one stopped and the other began. The characters looked great as well having been designed by Del Toro himself.
Like a lot of animated shows, this one has a few musical numbers. One, in particular, is Farewell Papa when Pinocchio leaves his father and goes to work for Waltz’s character full time. It’s a very emotional song that pulls on the heartstrings, no pun intended. The musical numbers mix well with the dramatic sequences involving Pinocchio’s father, the wood sprite, Podesta, and other scenes. This movie has a nice mix of serious scenes and lighter more comedic moments. Kids and adults should be able to enjoy this new version of this classic tale. Pinocchio has a lot to learn from everything he goes through. Musical or otherwise.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio combines a lot of elements together to create a genuine masterpiece of cinema. The realistic aspects involving WWII are woven into the story very nicely. They show a genuine life-or-death scenario. The main story which is the classic tale of a wooden boy who wants to be real is equally effective in garnering a reaction from viewers watching at home on Netflix or during its qualifying run in theaters. The stop-motion animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen. And the voiceover work by Mann, Bradley, Waltz, Swinton, and Perlman is first-rate. This version of this legendary story even has a great song, Farewell Papa, and a score to go along with it by Alexandre Desplat. Pinocchio is a genuine masterpiece of filmmaking by anyone’s standards and it should be received as such. This is one of the best films of the year, animated or otherwise.
Dan Skip Allen