Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio — streaming now on Netflix — ranks as the most popular movie in the world at the moment, and quite deservedly so. The Oscar-winning filmmaker took a massive risk bringing to the screen yet another adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s timeless tale of a wooden puppet who aspires to become a real, flesh-and-blood boy. After all, the 1940 Walt Disney musical iteration remains the bar by which any subsequent version has been judged by generations of children, parents, and grandparents. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio has been nominated for an Oscar for the 2023 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. And it deserves to be.
Del Toro’s version is right up there with the 1940 Disney film; which is one of the best kids’ movies of all time. They’re both profound and touching and masterfully crafted, but oh-so-different. Disney never shied away from scares in his animated films. The Paradise Island sequence in the 1940 Pinocchio – with little boys transformed into donkeys – comes to mind, as does the harrowing scene in which Pinocchio gets kidnapped. However, Disney’s Pinocchio is, ultimately, a sweet film punctuated with love and affection, humor and music, and bright colors. Del Toro (along with co-writer Patrick McHale and co-director Mark Gustafson) goes far, far deeper, and darker.
Del Toro considers the 1940 Pinocchio a “masterpiece,” and one of his two favorite Disney films, along with Sleeping Beauty: “It is a staggering achievement in animation,” he notes. “I loved and feared it equally as a kid. It’s the movie I have collected the most original concept art of, from Disney, and I cherish it.”
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is brilliant and highly recommended, but, pulling no punches — or strings! — this is not a children’s film. Adults will surely love it. So will bigger kids, perhaps 10 and older. So, to learn more about Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio and the differences between it and the Disney version, Fatherly recently picked the brains of Del Toro himself and young British actor Gregory Mann, who not only voices Pinocchio, but also Geppetto’s doomed real son, Carlo. Mild spoilers ahead.
When Pinocchio’s lies cause his nose to grow, it’s not the least bit cute.
The film unfolds in low-light settings, with a Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) – realized with stunning stop-motion animation – that looks more like a wooden puppet than a human boy. And when Pinocchio’s lies cause his nose to grow, it’s not the least bit cute. There’s a mean bully, an angry priest, a coldhearted government official who tries to convert Pinocchio into a weapon, and even an appearance by Benito Mussolini (voiced by SpongeBob legend Tom Kenney, of all people!).
Geppetto is presented as a grieving, drunken father who wants his dead son back far more than he cares to bond with Pinocchio. And Pinocchio dies and is resurrected multiple times (in several surreal scenes). The only rays of light come in the form of everyone’s favorite talking cricket, a wise and bemused insect who goes by the name Sebastian J. Cricket, voiced sublimely by Ewan McGregor.
But, and this is no lie, Del Toro always liked the idea of a disobedient version of Pinocchio, one that didn't promote change in order to be loved, but where you could stay yourself and still be loved: “Those were big differences,” he said. “And… stop-motion is such a different medium than 2-D animation that I actually think it’s not defiance, nor desire to be in the same arena as Disney’s film, but simply to carve -- pun intended -- our own little portion of the mythology that seems to be so elastic and beautiful with this character.”
Mann was on board immediately for Del Toro’s unique take: “This interpretation by Guillermo was so different,” he says. “It highlighted the father and son relationships, because not only is there Geppetto and Pinocchio, but there's also Podesta (Ron Perlman and Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard), and Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) and Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett). My favorite part about this Pinocchio is that it's a story about the relationship between a father and a son, and how it's never perfect. Your father might call you ugly names, like a burden, but in the end, he does love you.”
My favorite part about this Pinocchio is that it's a story about the relationship between a father and a son, and how it's never perfect. - Gregory Mann
The more Del Toro talks about Pinocchio, the more passionately he addresses veering from the book or any other production based on it: “We made it about many things, like failed paternity, imperfect fathers, imperfect sons, and, like I said, no need for change, and disobedience in a fascist environment, which makes totalitarianism pose a real risk for Pinocchio. It is deeper about what it is to be human and what it is to be alive. If you're alive in a real boy, then you will die. It examines the boundaries of life and death, things that have not been examined in any of the iterations that I know.”
Mann thinks of Del Toro as the “coolest guy” he’s ever met and was thrilled when the filmmaker asked him to voice both Pinocchio and Carlo: “The purpose of that was that Carlo’s soul was taken when he died and given to Pinocchio,” Mann explains. “Throughout the movie, there are a lot of references to Carlo and Pinocchio being the same. That's what I love about it, that they’re actually the same person. That's why Guillermo decided to make it me, voicing both of them.”
Carlo Collodi died 132 years ago. If by some kind of magic Del Toro could sit and meet with Collodi and discuss his film with the Italian author, what does he hope Collodi would think of it? “His origins are very interesting,” Del Toro replied. “He himself is the product of an acute awareness of the clash of the classes. He's a guy that has an interesting, esoteric, and Christian background. He's a curious mind. He has ambivalence about Pinocchio because in the middle of the tale he hung him from a tree and lets him die, then the readers demanded that he bring him back. I think we would have a good discussion or at least a good meal. An Italian and a Mexican having a meal, at least you can expect good cuisine!”
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is streaming now on Netflix.
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