Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – London Film Festival 2022 – Film Review

Pinocchio is a stop motion delight evidencing that Guillermo del Toro has once again crafted a visual storytelling masterpiece. Based on The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, it is a film that will appeal to children and adults alike with its highs and lows and del Toro proves that he remains a master storyteller with unexpected political commentary too and horror tropes á la Tim Burton.

For audiences expecting the traditional Pinocchio fairy tale of a young puppet boy whose lies literally showed on his face, as his nose grew longer, there are plenty of surprises abound in this version. Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a dark fairy tale filled with emotion, questions the parenting ideal and is embedded within a wartime setting. This may sound like a thematically heavy film but Pinocchio contains all of del Toro’s signature fantastical elements seen in his films Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water interwoven with reality, illustrating the absurd and the grotesque traversing a coming of age setting.

Expect to laugh and cry as Pinocchio’s story unfolds depicting a portrait of grief, fatherhood and isolation. Del Toro’s direction transcends the original fairy tale’s concepts of the rites of passage and the examination of the human condition. As such, Pinocchio’s journey does not merely explore the essence of a soul as the key to humanity, compared to being a puppet, but the film equally examines the delicate nature versus nurture elements in Pinocchio’s trajectory. If an object is crafted to replicate a human boy and mirrors human traits and obeys, could it therefore be accepted as a boy? In this modern world of embracing artificial intelligence and the need for greater diversity and tolerance, del Toro’s Pinocchio unexpectedly shines a spotlight on our inherent prejudices and ‘othering’ of those perceived to be different or choosing to operate outside of the status quo.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio poster - courtesy of Netflix
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio poster – courtesy of Netflix

Pinocchio portrays powerful political and religious imagery given its 1930s setting. The church is seen to play an important role within this Italian village, which one would expect to practice more tolerance as a result. However, del Toro elects to underline some of the hypocrisy, provincial attitudes and political ideology in effect as the words ‘credere, obbedire, combattere’, from a Fascist slogan, are casually witnessed numerous times on buildings and Pinocchio himself raises the question as to whether obedience is the route to being loved by a parent and indeed society. It is a pertinent question that remains relevant to this day where the questioning of the accepted norms or the condemnation of poor human rights records are subject to criticism.

Del Toro’s Pinocchio introduces powerful themes, not just from a child’s perspective, but also illustrates the concept of life and death to a child juxtaposed with having an eternal life. This is contrasted with the gamification of life where gamers may have several lives to spare before their time is up. The use of stop motion animation perhaps lends itself to this prospect of gamification but the visuals are extremely impressive and still add emotional weight to the storyline. The one element that remains jarring are the different accents in effect, which remain unexplained, given the Italian village setting.

Due to the era in which del Toro’s Pinocchio is set, there is a noticeable lack of central female characters, they appear to be consigned to brief appearances as mothers. Younger girls may therefore not resonate with or feel included within this rather masculine tale. However, Geppetto’s status as a single father is not fully explained but the pain etched within his face and his defensive attitude to counter painful, emotional moments seem to suggest that he is no stranger to grief. Del Toro pulls out all of these emotional strands with minimal exposition as Geppetto is one of those traditional stoic, restrained characters which may be limiting during moments when emotional expression is required. However, Alexandre Desplat’s emotive score comes to the rescue in those moments, fittingly providing the emotional resonance required.

Pinocchio is a surprisingly moving, powerfully heartfelt tale which easily flits between the profound and the glib with unanticipated musical numbers too, some of which are not immediately memorable. Whilst Pinocchio and Guillermo are the central characters there are some sub-plots with secondary characters that stand out and add weight to the universal themes conveyed. There is universal appeal in this compelling version of Pinocchio, which could easily transfer to the West End musical stage, and del Toro hits all of the right notes.

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