Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a beautiful work of stop-motion animation retelling the classic tale of a wooden puppet come to life. Here, Guillermo del Toro focuses more on life, death, grief and the heavy burden each of those things can be. We see how happy and complete Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) is with his son, Carlo. Then, after Carlo’s devastating death, we see the gaping horrible grief in Geppetto, like a deep wound that will never heal. One night, while drunk and weeping at Carlo’s grave, Geppetto cuts down the pine tree he planted for Carlo (with a new Cricket resident (voiced by Ewan McGregor) inside!). Fueled by grief and wine and he vows to make Carlo again and creates Pinocchio. After Geppetto has passed out, a mysterious Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton) brings Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) to life and charges the Cricket to be his conscience. And poor Geppetto wakes up to a horrible hangover and a shock to find his slap-dash, wooden mess has come to life and calls him Papa!
Geppetto’s main problem is not that he now has a new wooden son, but that Pinocchio behaves nothing like Carlo. Carlo was a perfectly well behaved and helpful boy and Pinocchio is, to put it politely, not. He is loud, unruly, dangerously curious, chaotically energetic, gullible and innocent to a fault. Pinocchio is not a bad boy, but often just doesn’t understand or know any better. I think many parents can understand Geppetto’s dilemma; too often we wish that one child could behave as well as the other. But the message we see by the end of the film is not for the boy to be “good” so he can be real, but for the parent to love the child as he is, splinters and all.
My younger son has taken a keen liking to this film and loves Pinocchio for all his imperfections. He loves to ask for things in an energetically annoying “please please please PLEASE!!!” as Pinocchio does. My son especially enjoys Spazzatura (the monkey voiced by Cate Blanchett), the scenes depicting the monstrous whale that swallows them whole and any time Pinocchio’s nose grows. And to my terror, he thinks it is hilarious when Pinocchio innocently sets his feet on fire, and then enjoys it! Maybe my son sees a bit of himself in the little wooden boy. All I know for sure is, this film is the reason we’ve gone through so much hot chocolate lately.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is on Netflix and rated PG. With the more mature themes presented, I believe that this film is meant to be enjoyed by the whole family and parents should guide their children through it. The heartbreaking focus on death and grief can be a bit much for very sensitive children. The rabbits carrying Pinocchio’s coffin in the underworld are not cute and fluffy. There are intriguing parallels between Pinocchio and the wooden man he sees in the church. The depiction of 1930s fascist Italy, complete with military youth camps and Mussolini casually ordering his men to shoot Pinocchio is something many parents may not want their kids to see. Not to mention Pinocchio’s special song for when Mussolini visits his puppet show!
But Guillermo del Toro understands animation is not a medium just for children, but an art for all to enjoy, even when telling children’s fairy tales. And he has created a wonderful, remarkable and beautiful stop motion animated film that adults can immerse themselves in without feeling childish. And can I say, there is just something intangibly perfect about telling the tale of Pinocchio with a whole cast of puppets that the talented animators bring to life!
“I’m made of flesh and bone and meaty bits!”