Del Toro, I love ya, but what is going on here?
Italy, at the peak of World War Two, an old carpenter loses his son in a terrible incident. But when a spirit sees his misery, it blesses a wooden doll with life, and a cricket as its conscience.
Often with Hollywood, we get two or even three versions of one story released at the same time. Disney, in their wisdom, made a live action remake of their Pinocchio story staring Tom Hanks as Geppetto. It generally did not receive high praise. Waiting in the wings however, was a retelling by visionary director Guillermo Del Toro, released exclusively on Netflix.
Del Toro’s imagining immediately took online audience attention compared to the Disney offering (which looked horrifying but in a very different way.)
The Netflix’s production is a stop motion animation, running at an ambitious two hours, starring Ewan McGregor, Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, among others. Written and directed by Del Toro, but also co-written by Patrick McHale (who penned ninety episodes of television’s Adventure Time) and you can imagine it has plenty of strange visuals!
Pinocchio is quite the specimen for Del Toro’s creative mind; an individual, who may be monstrous, shunned by society but either finds humanity or is respected by their peers. His choice to make this film stop motion animation is wonderful; the design work, animation style and integrity are up there with Laika Studio animations (such as Paranorman and Missing Link) and this is undoubtedly Pinocchio‘s greatest strength. The animation is perfect as we see characters leaping around, the use of scale between characters, it is seamless.
And yet, the storytelling is… weird. It is clearly the Pinocchio fable that we all known and love, but… it literally has Mussolini in it?? In fact, the backdrop of World War Two starts out reasonably reserved; a bombing, propaganda posters in the background, an armband. But there’s a whole detouring storyline with dear, innocent Pinocchio is being trained into the fascist Italian army of World War Two?? What is going on??
Admittedly, Del Toro does like to have significant historic wars as backdrops to his movies, but Pinocchio? As such, it is a little hard to tell what audience this is made for? It is a very bizarre film for kids to watch. It also has some changely not threatening moments of suspense. Which is, from Del Toro, frankly surreal to experience.
It may have suffered from being overhyped. The story feels cumbersome and perhaps had the setting been the original 1800s and not the 1930s, it could have avoided the WW2 side story that doesn’t add anything. The animation is beautiful, though, and the visuals are great. A lot of the performances and comedic moments strike well, too.
It certainly isn’t a bad experience. But it certainly wasn’t the expected experience!