The latest outing from the Mexican master Guillermo Del Toro, titled Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) is a creative adaptation of the book written by Carlo Collodi and is a gorgeously structured melancholic tale that instantly makes us reflect on the uprightness of our ethical choices. With a fair dose of sophistry and reinterpretation sprinkled in. This stop-motion animated film displays the director’s artistic sense and knack for details at its zenith. Though Del Toro has adapted a fairy tale, there are several scenes in the film that are depressing and dismal.
At times the plot points of the film compel us to simply sit back and enjoy the musical drama, which is also a tribute to love and a critical focus on defying dictatorship. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that the film isn’t just for children. Rather the narrative is counting on the fact that adults too will be lured to the visually stunning and sophisticated subjects present in the film.
The visual design of the film is inspired from artist Gris Grimly adaptation of Collodi’s novel in 2003. It served as the inspiration for the production as well as the character design of this film. The character in Del Toro’s version is unmistakably wooden, with arms and legs that resemble pickup sticks, a pointed nose, and a spherical head that resembles a carrot trapped in a pumpkin, in contrast to the soft, rounded limbs and kind, humanoid face seen in the Disney version.
The careful animation has the distinct haptic feeling of stop-motion and yet we can nearly feel the character’s bumpy and smooth surfaces, as well as the roughness of their body. Del Toro has created a version that is harsher and purportedly more serious. The filmmakers have successfully crafted a Pinocchio that was unique from the Disney version that’s been ingrained in the public psyche for decades.
Pinocchio in the Era of Mussolini
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio takes place between World Wars I and II and has been reframed as a tale about Mussolini’s Italy in the Thirties. Geppetto (David Bradley) has lost his beloved son Carlo in the most tragic of circumstances. In a state of alcoholic stupor, he sculpts Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) and the Puppet materializes out of thin air. Soon the puppet is engaging in his usual shenanigans, meeting the residents, including a priest and a raging Mussolini (Tom Kenny), and getting to know a chatty, charmless cricket (Ewan McGregor) until misfortune befalls on him.
Hence the story of the film depicts Carlo‘s passing as one of the innumerable tragedies linked to Italy’s rise to fascism under Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. Geppetto drinks out of his sadness for Carlo, and the alcohol makes him spiral and numb the anguish of having to live without the only person who genuinely gave his life meaning. However, the same sorrow is also what drives Geppetto to drunkenly and angrily cut down a pine tree he had planted in Carlo’s honor before starting to obsessively carve his deceased son’s likeness out of the wood.
Italian peasants were given a moral message in Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel. If they didn’t work hard, they might well wind up like poor Pinocchio, who was punished for his imprudence by being turned into a donkey. But in Del Toro’s version, the puppet child has been depicted as a harmless version that can be compared to the opposite of a monstrous entity. The puppet demonstrates human’s capacity to create life from nothing may be a source of joy rather than an act of reckless hubris. By doing so, Del Toro has grasped the artistry of crafting a classic story with a political message and the result is the most exquisite stop-motion animation film we’ve seen in a long time.
A Riveting, Satisfying Tale
Del Toro’s candor regarding the theme of the film speaks much about the strength of a child’s innocence. Due to his ignorance of the terrible idiocies of adult society, Pinocchio is labelled a renegade. While the town’s fascist administrator doesn’t convert lads into donkeys, he does send them to youth camps where they must pretend to be at war. When the recruits realize the pointlessness of their game, they begin to giggle in an instinctive act of revolt. That may not be what Collodi intended when he wrote the book. But it shows that the adaptability of his story can also resonate with such an enduring impact.
For the majority of his episodic escapades, Pinocchio is trapped between human and inhuman experiences. These scenes bring a unique blend of charm and terror into the story and keep us hooked. It also makes Del Toro’s decision to situate the plot in Fascist Italy with a perplexing and frustrating story structure. It also helps to explain the story’s enduring appeal of human resistance working miracles during a regimented regime. Del Toro appears to have chosen a fascist backdrop to emphasize the true puppets, not Pinocchio, but the small-minded town residents who accuse him of his unusualness.
However, the film’s didactic and alarmingly reckless use of fascism is limiting and ultimately does not seem organically woven. The film has some breathtaking visual beauty and engrossing narrative moments. But the ending of the film suffers from a disjointed storyline. And that happens to be a case of shortsightedness from a visionary filmmaker.
FTII alumnus and freelance writer. My articles have appeared in Scroll.in, The Hindu, Livemint.com, The Quint, The Tribune, Upperstall, among other publications.