One of my favourite directors, Guillermo del Toro takes on the classic tale of Pinocchio. Teaming up with director Mark Gustafson and an incredibly talented bunch of animators and voice talent, del Toro moves the story forward in time to the 1920s, setting it in Italy during the rise of Mussolini, paired with some dark imagery, del Toro’s love of monsters and some dark themes make this a fun stop-motion animation entry that is great for family viewing, should generate discussions with younger viewers, and contain some scary moments that should keep everyone entertained.
Geppetto (David Bradley) is haunted by the death of his son, his faith is shaken and he seeks solace in the bottle over and over. An older cricket, Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), has taken residence in the tree overlooking Geppetto’s son’s grave. He plans to write his memoirs, but in a drunken sorrow-fueled rage, Geppetto cuts the tree down and carves a new puppet, Pinocchio (Gregory Mann).
A Wood Sprite, who fans would know as the Blue Fairy, but changed to fit the creative style of del Toro’s vision is brought to life by Tilda Swinton, and the Sprite has noticed Geppetto’s pain and brings the wooden boy to life.
From there, the story does check off some familiar moments, Pinocchio skipping school, becoming a performer, Cricket being his voice of reason, and Geppetto’s pursuit of the boy, with Cricket, to save him only to be swallowed whole by a sea beast where Pinocchio comes to rescue him.
There are concepts of sacrifice, making each moment count, and some gorgeous character designs as the little puppet who dreams of being a real boy goes on a beautiful journey, one that touches the heart as much as it entertains and honours the story on which it is based.
The film features some very familiar voices, del Toro regular Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Tim Blake Nelson (playing one of my favourite characters in the film), Burn Gorman, John Turturro, and Cate Blanchett who so wanted to work with del Toro again (following Nightmare Alley) and be involved with the project that she took on the role of Spazzatura, a monkey that makes a lot of noises and not much else.
Character design and the animation of same are simply stunning, and, like all of del Toro’s films, is an absolutely stunning watch, emotionally engaging, featuring a strongly written story and great vocal work from all involved.
I have yet to be disappointed by anything del Toro has done (and I still hold out hope for At the Mountains of Madness) and eagerly await each new production, and constantly hope that I may bump into him as he wanders around the city that seems to be his second home, Toronto.