Guillermo del Toro is one of the best directors working today, his work is consistently overflowing with heart and originality that always moves me. Del Toro’s latest effort for Netflix, a stop-motion adaptation of Pinocchio, is no different. I’m always sceptical of remakes or adaptations of works that already have an iconic film adaptation (Disney’s Pinocchio, in this case), but Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio manages to justify its existence in a world of unnecessary remakes and re-adaptations.
At the world premiere of this film del Toro talked in his introduction about how Disney’s 1940 Pinocchio meant a lot to him, as he had watched it with his mother when he was young, and it was a formative part of their bonding. So, Pinocchio is clearly a text that means a lot to him, and he is very faithful to the source material while also making changes to the plot to address themes commonly touched upon in his own films: namely, the pervasiveness of fascism, its de-emphasis on individuality, and how we can stop it from corrupting the minds of the young and innocent.
Del Toro does this by placing the film during the rise of fascism in Mussolini’s Italy, and it also includes a new subplot about the son of the main fascist military officer in Pinocchio and Geppetto’s hometown. This is done in an organic way, and it hits all the intended emotional beats, making it the perfect anti-fascist introduction for anyone who isn’t yet politically literate.
Some of the scenes featuring Mussolini himself minimised his evilness in reality, but this didn’t detract from the thematic potency of the film too much for me. The emotion of the film as a whole is really strong, as some more changes to the source material heighten the stakes significantly and make you a lot more emotionally invested in the on-screen events. Pinocchio does get quite dark at times as well, but it never feels tonally dissonant from the heart-warming core of the story.
The stop-motion animation here is among the best I’ve ever seen; everything looks wonderfully detailed, and the movements of the characters are just seamless. The painstaking process of stop-motion looks effortless as del Toro’s stylistic risk pays off.
Another highlight was the star-studded voice cast. I was shocked to see the likes of Cate Blanchett and Christoph Waltz rock up to the screening, with more big names such as Ewen McGregor, Tilda Swinton, and Finn Wolfhard also voicing characters. Ewen McGregor as Sebastian J. Cricket was my personal favourite performance, he’s able to communicate the eccentricity of his character perfectly with his voice, I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing a better job.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio surprised me with its stellar animation, A-list cast, and thematic depth. It does an excellent job of standing up on its own as an adaptation of this beloved story, and it’s such an easy watch that I would urge anyone with a Netflix subscription to watch it immediately.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is streaming on Netflix now.