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November 1, 2022

‘Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio’: A beautiful adaptation

New interpretation of classic excels in all categories of good filmmaking, captivates critics and audiences
By Netflix YouTube Channel

After 15 years of production, Guillermo Del Toro’s movie adaptation of Pinocchio was released in select theaters on Nov. 9, 2022, and added to Netflix on Dec. 9. This was the third major Pinocchio adaptation released in 2022, and while the past two interpretations received poor reviews from critics and viewers, Del Toro’s adaptation proves that the third time really is the charm. Everything about this film is a “chef’s kiss,” from the story arc and detail to the beautiful shots and cinematography.

Based on Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, woodworker Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) lives in Italy with his son Carlo. In Del Toro’s adaptation which takes place from World War I through the 1930s, Carlo is killed by a bomb in an unintentional attack by Austro-Hungarian forces, leaving Gepetto depressed and alone. Years pass, and one day Gepetto is longing so deeply for the son he’ll never get back that he decides to create a wooden boy. A magical wood sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton) gives life to the wooden boy whom she names Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) to bring Gepetto days of joy. She also decides to appoint Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor) to teach Pinocchio how to be a good boy in exchange for a wish, something Sebastian hopes can improve his life.

During his first days as a living boy, Pinocchio is bratty and obnoxious. While this makes him hard to root for, it leaves lots of room for character development. Pinocchio is essentially a newborn child and doesn’t know how the world works or what the rules are, and as far as he knows, Gepetto is his father. Because of Pinocchio’s abrupt arrival, Gepetto is hesitant to accept Pinocchio as his son, a position he views as reserved for Carlo. While Gepetto absolutely adored and spoiled Carlo, Pinocchio gets treated harshly. The relationship between Gepetto and Pinocchio is well-developed and fleshed out, with heartbreaking scenes detailing Pinocchio’s unrelenting quest to win Gepetto’s love. Along the way, Gepetto learns to accept Pinocchio and realizes that Carlo is not the only child that he can love. 

This is more than just another adaptation of Pinocchio; it shows us that the sky’s the limit for animated adaptations.

This film was originally going to be changed to be 2D animated, but Del Toro insisted on keeping it to stop-motion animation. It was a perfect choice. Not only does Del Toro’s Pinocchio bring back the charm of stop motion that we rarely see today, but it also makes everything from the pine needles on the trees to the beautiful village that Gepetto and Pinocchio live in visually pleasing. Every scene in the film looks like a flawless piece of art. There is, however, one scene in particular that stands out the most. When Pinocchio meets the death guardian and finds out that he is immortal, the dark and blue light on the guardian evokes a scared yet curious emotion in the viewer.

Del Toro’s adaptation also features musical numbers. Though the lyrics may not be as memorable as Disney’s classic Pinocchio adaptation, they do an impressive job of emphasizing what the characters are feeling in the moment. One of the best examples is “Ciao Papa” where Pinocchio is saying farewell to Gepetto as he embarks on a journey to be a show puppet in hopes of making his father proud and proving that he is not a burden. The heartbreaking lyrics and Gregory Mann’s angelic vocals provide a soothing escape from the intensity of the plot.

Del Toros Pinocchio brings back the charm of stop motion that we rarely see today.

One of the best characters and the narrator of the story, Sebastian J. Cricket, also gets his time to shine. Ewan McGregor does a fantastic job as Sebastian and is entertaining and funny when the character is on screen. Compared to other adaptations, the cricket is more involved in the story and more than just Pinocchio’s external conscience. He has traveled worldwide and dreams of having a memoir published. In past adaptations, the cricket’s sole purpose was to teach Pinocchio the difference between right and wrong, but here it is much more than that. Sebastian teaches Pinocchio not to give up when tragedy strikes and to try his hardest because that’s the best that anyone can do. He also tells Gepetto to stop whining about his loss and become a real father to Pinnochio. Also, the running gag of Sebastian continuously getting squished got a laugh out of me every time it happened.

The film’s most significant difference from other adaptations of Pinocchio is that Del Toro makes Pinocchio immortal, resulting in him coming to the realization that death is a major part of what can give a life meaning. In spite of the fact that he will outlive everyone that he ever comes to love, he decides to not feel down about this and instead chooses to influence everyone around him in a positive light. He teaches Gepetto to open his heart to love and move forward with a positive attitude. Pinocchio also helps Sebastian, his mentor, gain new friends. Through all this, Pinocchio begins to see the beauty in life.

Every scene in the film looks like a piece of flawless art

By facing dark and serious themes head-on, Del Toro manages to improve upon Disney’s live-action Pinocchio. This truly was one of the best-animated films of 2022 and rightfully deserved its recent win at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards as well as its nominations for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award show and the Oscars. This is a film with a deeper meaning that any family would enjoy and a piece of art to be recognized for many years to come. This is more than just another adaptation of Pinocchio; it shows us that the sky’s the limit for animated adaptations when the right emotion and care are put into story development. 

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on February 6, 2023.