Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion version of Carlo Collodi’s ‘Pinocchio’ is a children’s story in the very traditional sense. Which is to say: it’s full of violence, torture and kids being killed for making the wrong decisions. It’s also incredibly beautiful, not only visually – there’s always something slightly heartbreaking about the painstaking work of stop-motion animation – but in the way it subtly reimagines a story that has been told countless times.
Co-written and co-directed by the Mexican auteur, his Pinocchio takes as many liberties with Collodi’s original stories as Disney’s classic, while keeping the core dark tone. Gepetto (voiced by Game of Thrones’ David Bradley) is an elderly carpenter whose son is killed in a bombing in the 1930s, when Italy is in the grip of fascism.
Grief-stricken and desperate to bring his son back, Gepetto one night carves a boy from wood, before collapsing in a drunken stupor. He wakes to find a sprite (Tilda Swinton) has brought the puppet to life, which is initially no great gift. Pinocchio has the attention span of a goldfish and the destructive nature of a Labrador puppy. As in Collodi’s stories, he’s a selfish agent of chaos, repeatedly getting into trouble of his own making. But every mistake brings him closer to understanding that a life lived just for yourself is no life at all.
Guillermo del Toro’s version beats Disney’s drab recent redo by more than a nose
The tweaks to the story are subtle but transformative. With the ominous fascist backdrop, the story’s themes of ever-threatened death and living life without fear are powerfully amplified. Bolshy little Pinocchio seems suddenly boldly subversive. And a small but important change to the ending gives it a far more profound conclusion than we usually see. It’s a shame del Toro kept the typical animation trope of inserting songs, because they’re all instantly forgettable, but that’s a relatively minor gripe.
As you’d expect from the Mexican master, this is rich with macabre imagination and tiptoes between dreaminess and nightmarishness. In a contest with 2022’s other Pinocchio, Disney’s drab live-action redo, this wins by far more than a nose.
In UK cinemas Nov 25 and on Netflix worldwide Dec 9.