Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) Review
A FANTASTIC TALE OF LOVE,
DISOBEDIENCE, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE
Throughout the many years in the filmmaking industry, Hollywood studios has had a long history of competition, which can sometimes mean producing a movie to outdo and outshine a rival studio. Because of this, some studios have on occasion create similar movies to one another competing studio within the same year and by ways and means to capitalize on a better product within their respective feature film. This can cause a sort of “déjà vu” feeling when moviegoers catch one film in earlier in the year and then see a very strikingly similar one a few months later on, with can include same concept, narrative, gimmick, characters, and few other cinematic nuances. Sometimes this has been intentional, while other times studios just been pure coincidence. In addition, this particular situation, while not the most common practice, has been done several times and can generate a bit of influx / confusion or an examination between the endeavors on which studio produced the better film. Such example of this can be found the animated cartoon bug / insect movies in 1998’s Antz and A Bug’s Life, the “end of the world” by asteroid from deep space in 1998’s Deep Impact and Armageddon, the mystifying fascination of illusionary magic tricks in 2006’s The Prestige and The Illusionists, the reimagining of the classic Snow White tale in 2012’s Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, and terrorist attacking the White House in 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, just to name a few. Now, after the unfavorable (and wooden) mishap in their Disney’s live-action remake of Pinocchio, as Netflix (in part the Netflix Animation) and director Guillermo del Toro present the second 2022 feature film that examines a new iteration of Carl Collodi’s iconic tale of a wooden boy in the animated project titled Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. Does this movie find merit within this latest production from del Toro’s dark imagination or is it another “been there, done that” premise that doesn’t warrant a new incarnation from the famous wooden boy?
In Italy during World War I, Geppetto, (David Bradley), after losing his son, Carlo (Gregory Mann), to a recent aerial bomb strike, is overcome with grief, with the wood maker struggling to deal with the world around him. In a fit of rage and sadness, Geppetto cuts down a tree special to him and elects to create a wooden boy as remainder of his son, only to have a Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) turn the wooden creation into a living thing, who is called Pinocchio and who is quite curious about the new world he’s come into. Joined by Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), a traveling cricket who is working on his memoir, Pinocchio (also Gregory Mann) begins to experience the plans of individuals looking to exploit his miraculous abilities, including Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), the owner and operator of a traveling puppet show who’s looking for the next big star attraction, and Podesta (Ron Perlman), an ambitious military official who plans to use the wooden boy as a tool for war, soon joining his own son, Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard), in the fight. Finding difficulty in coming to terms with the world and how it works, Pinocchio embarks upon a journey of self-discovery, learning what it means to be alive, learning self-control and sacrifice, while Geppetto comes to turns that magical wooden boy isn’t the son he lost.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
It’s no surprise that Hollywood studios have always been in competition with each other, vining for supremacy at the box office with a new property that is either popular in pop culture or the latest and newest trend. That being said, the jostling for viewership in their latest project can create that overtly familiar tones, especially if the subject matter / plot of the movie’s narrative can be quite similar to one another feature film that was just released a few months back. As mentioned above, there is a “déjà vu” feeling when this occurs and (at least to me) is kind of interesting to see the comparison to see how one compares to the other. I mean…. some are better than others as I personally found A Bug’s Life better than Antz, I found Armageddon to be more of a Hollywood blockbuster endeavor than the more dramatic character turn in Deep Impact, I viewed The Prestige as the superior of the two against The Illusionists, I liked the epic / darker take of Snow White and the Huntsman rather than more whimsical Mirror, Mirror, and I liked the more gritter take on terrorism attacks in Olympus Has Fallen rather than White House Down. Of course, there are several other “similar” movies that have come out quite close to one another, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. In the end, while some are intentional or just sheer coincidence, similar movie releases can happen (and still do), with familiar plots and gimmicks take center stage and finding the difference takes on such ideals in movie storytelling.
This brings me back to talking about, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, a 2022 animated dark fantasy film and the latest interpretation of the Carl Collodi’s iconic tale of a wooden boy. As stated in the paragraph above, similar movies do come out every so often and 2022 was no different with the release announcement of two Pinocchio movies from two different directors. Of course, the first one was the iteration that Disney had trademark in their release of Pinocchio, a live-action incarnation from their beloved 1940 animated classic. Unfortunately, while a few parts of the feature had a several technical merits and some good casting choice, the movie failed to meet expectations, with 2022’s Pinocchio lacking charm, heart, and originality. Naturally, I felt that way about that film and ended up disappointed by it, with my attention turning towards what director Guillermo del Toro was visioning for Collodi’s story of Pinocchio. Given the director’s past experiences, I was definitely going into the movie with a lot of darker / mature flourishes and nuances from this project, especially how some of the movie’s stills and marketing campaign that began to appear online. With my work schedule being so heavily during the time of its release, I didn’t get the chance to immediately watch the movie. I did, however, was able to finally see this movie when I went on vacation in February 2023, yet, while I was still playing “catch up” with some of my other movie reviews, I had to pushed back writing my thoughts on this particular animated film. Now, nearing the end of the list of my “unfinished” reviews for 2022, I finally now have the chance to share my personal thoughts on the film. And what did I think of it? Well, I thought it was good, but not as great as some are making it out to be. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a visually stunning animated movie that dances to its own beat, with a darker and more mature tale of the classic wooden boy yet stalls in a few areas. It’s definitely not the greatest iteration of Pinocchio, but it is definitely the most different….and that’s kind of a good thing.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is directed by Guillermo del Toro, whose previous directorial works include such films as Hellboy, The Shape of Water, and Pan’s Labyrinth, and Mark Gustafson, whose previous directorial short films, including Mr. Resistor and Joe Blow. While I am not familiar with Gustafson’s work, del Toro I definitely know of and how he has utilized cinematic storytelling to project some of his more fantastic elements and visions into his various projects. He is also known for his “creature features”, enabling such beings into his narrative as well as sprinkling nuances of darker tones and tones throughout his production. So, it definitely was curious to see del Toro tackle such a project like the story of Pinocchio and how he could weave his signature. Sure, enough, del Toro does manage to make the whole endeavor very much “in-line” and “in spirt” to his thematically dark version of the wooden boy’s tale, without sacrificing the familiar beats that are customary to the story that many have known throughout the years. Naturally, this isn’t the Disney version of Pinocchio; something that del Toro clearly makes his iteration of Pinocchio known right from the get-go, with a darker and more mature story to spin. Thus, the juxtaposition of such dueling narratives from this particular film and to the 2022 live-action feature that the “House of Mouse” (a more traditional representation) is clearly noticeable. Who comes out on top? Well, for sheer difference, it’s definitely Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio comes out on top (by a landslide), with new animated feature having a new representation of an old classic. That’s not to say that del Toro makes his movie about Pinocchio completely unrecognizable, with a lot of familiar tones and scenarios that play out in both films, including a talking cricket, a scheming puppeteer performer, a monstrous sea creature, and a few other nuances.
That being said, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio has much more new material to say about the wooden boy that came to life, with del Toro adding to the Pinocchio mythos with touches of death and loss as well as learning about the world / growing up. Those particular elements can be found in Disney version, yet mostly buried underneath the tailor made kid friendly approach. And that’s not a bad thing, especially since Disney has made their animated tale of Pinocchio to be the most iconic version of them all. Del Toro is definitely a close second, which weaves in more adult themes as well as the director’s signature style and visual flourishes into the mix for a more worldly viewing that both speaks to the child-like offerings of the classic tale, yet still feels rooted in the darker elements of fairy tale cultural representation. Del Toro’s films have always sparked imagination and fantasies with more darken motifs of creatures and / or scenarios, with his movie about Pinocchio’s journey having a more spiritual one, especially since the narrative has a more rooted human emotions and a better grasp on such big ideas such as death and grief (more on that below). There’s still some humorous bit and kid-friendly fun that are sprinkled in and out of the feature, but, just as word of caution for some viewers out there, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, while amazingly animated and meaningful poignant, may not be suitable for some younger viewers out there. And that’s not a good or bad thing as del Toro himself has always been a fan of more adult fantasy-esque storytelling (i.e., Pan’s Labyrinth) …. just an observation. So, regardless of if one likes (or dislikes) this particular movie, no one can deny how different this particular version of Pinocchio is….and that’s really a good thing, especially to its other 2022 live-action counterpart from Disney.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect that the movie has to offer is in the strong and worldly themes / messages that the animated feature presents throughout its narrative. While the common Pinocchio themes of doing what is right and the learn to discern good natured vs. evil intentions in the face of naivety are clearly presented in the movie, del Toro heavily utilizes more mature themes, including the film exploring death and grief in a very moving and human way. This can be seeing in Geppetto’s journey in the feature, who, unlike other iterations of Pinocchio, has more of a part to play in the narrative as the wooden boy’s story, with the elder man confront the power of grief and loss and trying to surmise the situation that he’s in and how Pinocchio isn’t the boy he just recently loss. Even Pinocchio’s journey has a more mature feeling vibe throughout, with the character facing challenges of dying (and fully grasping it), the power of deception, and facing reality of war (the death of childhood innocence). This sort of evokes a sense of darker themes that, while meaningful to all, can be seeing as complex nature in the tale of wooden boy coming to life. Overall, I think that del Toro definitively made his mark on the Pinocchio trademark staple, with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio speaking to the director’s style and visual flair and makes a new (and appreciated) experience in the representation of the iconic story of a wooden boy and the misadventures he goes through.
Where the movie truly does shine is in the presentation category, with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio utilizing a very different stance on the style of animation for this undertaking of display new spin on an old story. Rather than just using traditional animation (whether 2D or 3D), del Toro goes for something relatively old, yet uncommon in today’s movie landscape of cartoon feature endeavors in the presentation of stop-motion animation. Such a technique feels like a welcomed “breath of fresh air”, especially considering the number of animated movies coming out that have the “same old” matted look to them. Although, a recent spike in different styles of animation (i.e., Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Bad Guys, etc.) has begun to surface, with more and more studio now looking for new innovations in visual telling an animated project. Del Toro is right up in the arena, with his movie having such fantastic look about it, with the usage of clay “stop motion” animation to bring his iteration of Collodi. Plus, the characteristic design of the all the characters in the feature are quite different, with a touch of realism as well as a touch of fantasy to them, which results in something unconventional. Even the feature’s setting is something one-of-a-kind, which can be very picturesque and beautiful to look, even some of the more darker looking scenes. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Guy Davis and Curt Enderle (production design), Robert DeSue (art direction), Jesse Gregg, Gillian Hunt, Samantha Levy, Molly Light, Laura Savage, Zach Sheehan (set decorations), and Maeve Callahan, Emelia Hiltner, and Katy Strutz (hair / make-up), should be commended for their fantastic efforts in making del Toro’s visual vision to life in such an interesting and clever way.
Additionally, the film’s cinematography work by Frank Passingham is great throughout the movie and helps build upon the visual style for the feature and brings the necessary flavor in del Toro’s masterplan for this project. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Alexandre Desplat, is also relatively great, with a musical composition that hits all the right notes in almost every scenes, regardless of if it’s a quiet dialogue one or a bombastic action sequence.
Unfortunately, there are several pieces in the feature’s development / undertaking that holds the movie back from reaching true cinematic glory in a few crucial areas. How so? Well, for starters, there is no denying how quite unique in trying to put a new spin on the classic commonly used interpretation of the Pinocchio story. Yet, despite that notion, del Toro bites off a little bit more than he can chew, with the narrative trying a little bit too hard to be take the story in a new darker direction. Sometimes, this can be helpful in the movie, especially with del Toro’s tendency to portrayal darkness within a children’s tale, but there are times where that particular aspect gets caught up a tad too much, which causes the feature to become a slightly distracting in trying to be both different and more mature. Scenes of militaristic ideals and Italian fascism can be a little bit distracting at some points, especially since those elements are more nuanced and don’t play much to the film’s main plot. Even the concept of death and how it gets intertwined into Pinocchio’s journey, while poignant and meaningful, comes at the expense of something flavored window dressing. Again, I do understand del Toro’s intentions, with a vision that is just as strange and darker as his previous films, yet feels sometimes undercooked.
There is also a touch of inconsistency with the feature, especially when the feature tries to incorporate musical songs into the narrative. On the bright side, the music helps elevate some of the darker tones of the feature and that the songs themselves are different from the ones from the iconic Disney version of Pinocchio (i.e. “When You Wish Upon a Star” or “No Strings on Me”). That being said, the song themselves, while light in length, don’t really have a memorable impact on the feature. Of course, I do understand del Toro’s vision for this inclusion lyrical songs, yet the actual execution of it comes off as a little bit limp. Heck, I don’t even remember the songs themselves or even recall the tune of them. In addition, I felt that the importance of certain things felt more flat, with newer ideas taking center stage, which looses the impact on some. One perfect example is in the appearance of iconic talking cricket that gives Pinocchio advice, who does make an appearance and I do have to give credit for making the character different from the more well-known iteration of Jimmy Cricket from Disney’s version, but seems rather forgetful in several chunks of the feature. Thus, it kind of feels that del Toro and his team and trying to make the feature very much different from past portrayals of Pinocchio (of which it does), yet still feels like some of the touches to differentiate itself seem a bit clunky in how it is presented in the movie.
The voice cast in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is solid all the way around, with an assemblage of recognizable acting talents bring their respective “A” vocal game to the proceedings, which helps elevates these particular characters that are both familiar and unfamiliar to the telling of Pinocchio. Leading the charge as the feature’s title character is actor Gregory Mann, who provides the voice for Pinocchio. Mann, who is known for his roles in Victoria and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is not a familiar / household name that many viewers know about, but his talent on this specific project should be highly praised. To that end, Mann is fantastic in the role of Pinocchio, with the movie offering up a new and interesting take on the famous wooden boy come to life. In fact, in the movie, del Toro imagines Pinocchio as more crude construct (built out of grief and rage / sadness), so the design work is more slightly misshapen and odd looking, which (of course) fits quite well into del Toro’s elements. Even the character of Pinocchio himself is quite a unique take on the character in the film, with this iteration of the wooden puppet come to life to be more childish brat rather than the more docile and sweet version might have found in past favorites. He’s still naive and curious about the world around him (and the people he meets), but there more to it than that, with del Toro showing more of childish behavior in the character, which causes frustration in both Geppetto and Sebastian throughout the movie. It definitely works and Mann is up to the task by imbuing the character with such brash childhood angst and sometimes selfish behavior, which (in turn) makes the character growth of Pinocchio all the worthwhile by the time it reaches its conclusion.
Behind Mann, actor David Bradley does a very impressive and quite frankly a memorable vocal performance in his portrayal of Master Geppetto, Italian woodcarver / Pinocchio surrogate father in the story. Known for his roles in Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and After Life, Bradley has certainly built himself a fine career throughout the years, especially character roles that fit a elder and grizzled man. Such is the case in his performance within the character of Geppetto, the iconic character from the Pinocchio tale, yet del Toro breathes new life in this old familiar. Geppetto in the film is very grief stricken man, who is filled with rage and sadness over the loss of his son, which is something of a very human emotion. Thus, the immediate connection is there and is felt throughout the character’s journey in the movie. Bradley’s voice also shares that emotionally weight, with his portrayal of Geppetto have a touch of sadness and frustration of the situations that Pinocchio finds himself in as well as the frustration the wooden boy isn’t like his beloved boy, Carlo. Collectively, Bradley is superb in the movie as the character of Geppetto, with del Toro and his team giving the character more to do (and holds a larger significance) in this retelling of Pinocchio than every before.
In more secondary supporting roles, actor Ewan McGregor (Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Moulin Rouge) delivers a fine representation in the voice of character Sebastian J. Cricket, traveling / talking cricket who lives inside Pinocchio’s wooden frame as his guide and conscience in the tale. Of course, the character is perhaps the most iconic construction from not just the Collodi’s story of Pinocchio, but also in the form of Jimmy Cricket from Disney’s Pinocchio. From similarities, both Jimmy and Sebastian share some archetype role in the tale of Pinocchio, with the latter have a bit more of small staple subplot of him trying to write down his memoirs of his life. Plus, McGregor is perfect in the role of Sebastian, with his voice project the amount of kind-hearted and spoken that many have come to identify the character of a talking cricket of a wooden boy’s conscious. The difference, however, is that he isn’t the main focus as Disney imagined him, with del Toro sort of pushing the character aside several times in favor of introducing new ideas and concepts (as well as characters) into the cinematic focus. Thus, Sebastian J. Cricket, while brilliantly voiced by McGregor, still is impactful to the overall story, yet sort of get lost a few times along the way. After that, actor Christoph Waltz (Skyfall and Inglorious Basterds) gives a memorable (yet small) performance in voicing the character of Count Volpe, a scheming and cruel aristocrat-turned-puppet master / con man. Much like what del Toro had in mind for the feature, the character of Volpe is a reimagining of the Ringmaster from the original Pinocchio story (Stromboli from Disney’s Pinocchio) and one can easily tell that Waltz was perfect for the role. He lays on thick (in a good way), which helps build upon the character who is looking to make a fortune off of befriending Pinocchio. All in all, I think that Waltz was perfect as Count Volpe and I won’t have it any other way.
Other supporting players such as actor Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy and Hellboy) as the Podesta, a stern fascists government official who wants to use Pinocchio as a soldier in the war, and actor Finn Wolfhard (IT and Stranger Things) as the Podesta’s son Candlewick are given interesting representation in the film as somewhat counterpart illusion to the character of Coachman from the original story and to the character of Lampwick respectfully. Next, actress Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) pulls off a dual role in the movie as both the Wood Sprite and the character manifestation of Death respectfully. While the Wood Sprite is del Toro’s play on the Pinocchio story as the blue fairy who gives life to the wooden boy, the character of Death (who is the sister to the Wood Sprite) is new concept for the narrative and helps build upon the mythos themes of death in the feature. Of course, Swinton handles both roles correctly and gives each one a sort of mystify and otherworldly voice throughout, which definitely fits their character personas. The only voice talent that I felt was underutilized was in actress Cate Blanchett (Tar and Elizabeth) in her character role of Spazzatura, Count Volpe’s mistreated monkey assistant. While the overall character is fine in the movie, I felt that Blanchett’s vocal performance was very minimal (Spazzatura can only speak through the puppets he operates) and, while she has such a memorable voice, was just giving a very small role and didn’t fully utilized the actress’s talent.
The rest of the cast, including actor Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim and TURN: Washington’s Spies) as the local priest in Geppetto’s village, actor Tim Blake Nelson (The Incredible Hulk and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as a flock of skeletal rabbits known as the Black Rabbits, actor John Turturro (Barton Fink and Transformers) as the physician in Geppetto’s village the Dottore, and actor Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants and Talking Tom and Friends) as the leader of Fascist Italy Benito Mussolini, his right-hand man, and an unnamed sea caption, are delegated to minor supporting characters in the movie. While the film doesn’t give these particular characters enough time to fully develop them properly (servicing only in a handful of scenes), the acting tale involved are (nevertheless) solid across the board.
Grieving over the loss of his son, Geppetto’s wish for his son’s returned gets more than what he’s bargained when a magical wooden boy creation is brought to life in the movie Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. Directors Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson’s latest film takes the well-known tale of Pinocchio and reimagines it for a new audience for a animated feature film that holds more heavy (thematic and narrative purpose) rather than just a crude wooden construct shell of the movie that plays upon old properties. It’s both different and familiar at the same time, but in a good and refreshing way. While film does falter in a few areas in substance and execution, the feature itself is quite brilliant in how differentiates it is without losing the overall commonplace tones that makes up the narrative, with del Toro’s ultimate vision, a mature representation of the characters, strong and palpable themes, a fantastic style of animation, and solid voice acting across the board. Personally, I liked this movie. It was brave attempt to reimagine such a classic tale, especially how the beloved Disney animated version made the story of Pinocchio iconic, and I felt that del Toro made his mark on the story with his interpretation. Was some parts clunky? Yes, no doubt about that. Was a little bit too depressing? Yes, it was. Could it have been tweaked here and there? Yes, in a few areas. However, the movie itself is solid product of the director’s signature vision of dark adult visions of children’s tale and finding common ground with it rather than a jarring experience. It’s not as completely stellar as some are making it out to be, but it’s definitely unique and bold choice to make and that the gamble itself paid off in the end. So, the big question….is this movie better than Disney’s animated classic. It’s hard to say. Personally, I still like the Disney version, but (again) the brilliance of del Toro’s imagination (and thematic message) can not be denied. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is highly favorable “highly recommended” one, especially those who were disappointed by the 2022’s live-action remake that Disney had put out, and looking for something different from the tale of a wooden boy who learns right from wrong. In the end, while Hollywood will continue (knowingly or unknowingly) to release similar movies against their rival studios counterparts, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio captures a new vision of Collodi’s story in wraps it up in del Toro’s style and visual flair for a mature spin on an old children’s classic.
4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: December 9th, 2022
Reviewed On: March 26th, 2023
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is 117 minutes long and is rated PG for dark thematic material, violence, peril, some rude humor and brief smoking
Good review Jason. I’ve never been a fan of Pinocchio and none of my kids have been either. But maybe they’ll find something new now with this one. We’ll give it a spin.
It’s definitely something quite different and unique, especially when comparing to all the other iterations and adaptations of the Pinocchio. From that standpoint alone, it’s worth watching.