(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)
Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most recognizable and beloved filmmakers in the film industry. Anytime he makes a new film, you know you are going to be in for a whimsically crafted experience of mature tones and a wonder that you won’t find with any other filmmaker. Who else could jump between genres crafting films like Pacific Rim, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Nightmare Alley, The Shape of Water, Blade II, Hellboy, and Crimson Peak? Every film he has created has resulted in one that is distinct and could not be mistaken for any other filmmaker’s work. He has such a passion for what he loves, and there is a reason why so many have fallen head over heels for his films. Of course, to me, it’s no shock that he has a love for animation and not just because he has produced the hit Netflix series Trollhunter or was a producer on films like Rise of the Guardians. Del Toro probably loves animation and the art of the medium more than most fans, including myself. You have probably seen the clips of him speaking to a late-night host or someone and calling out the entertainment industry’s lack of respect for the medium and how it’s not just for kids. Sure, films and shows might be aimed at kids, but the best filmmakers make films and series that kids and adults will enjoy. This is how the best directors and studios stick around, and that’s no different here with Guillermo Del Toro throwing his newest directorial effort, an animated film, at us on Netflix called Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio.
This lovingly-created stop-motion feature is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafson, written by Del Toro and Patrick McHale, and produced by Double Dare You! Productions, ShadowMachine, and The Jim Henson Company. This iteration of the famous story by Carlo Collodi takes place during World War I, where we follow Geppetto, voiced by David Bradley, a wood carver that lives with his son in Italy. After working on a cross for the church, the town in which Geppetto and his son live gets hit by a bombing raid, and his son named Carlo is killed when a bomb hits the church. In his grief, for years on end, Geppetto drinks his days away in front of the grave where his son is buried. In his anger and depression, Geppetto cuts down the tree that they planted and crafts a wooden boy that just happens to have a talking cricket inside named Sebastian J Cricket, voiced by Ewan McGregor, who is also the narrator of our story. That night as Geppetto falls asleep, a blue fairy arrives voiced by Tilda Swinton, and brings the boy to life and makes a deal with Cricket for him to guide this wooden boy in the right way. The next morning, the boy comes to life and is named Pinocchio, voiced by Gregory Mann. Can Geppetto and Pinocchio bond as father and son together?
We have had an absurd number of animated films based on Pinocchio this year, the Lionsgate DTV film, another Russian-animated Pinocchio film that’s entirely different, and then the Disney remake. To no shock, they all lost the core reason why the story is so beloved and therefore have no real reason to be watched. Del Toro and Patrick McHale’s focus on actual character and story leads this adaptation miles and leagues above other adaptations. Setting it during 1930 Italy while changing the setting to a degree, doesn’t actually change much from the original story or if you have seen the classic Disney version. Instead of dealing with a walking talking fox, his cat compatriot, and the carnie that takes Pinocchio on his traveling puppet show, we get those three wrapped up into the duo of Spazzatura, voiced by Cate Blanchett, and Count Volpe, voiced by Christoph Waltz. They may have changed the island where the boys get turned into donkeys and sold to mining, but instead, we get Podesta, voiced by Ron Pearlman, who takes his son Candlewick, voiced by Finn Wolfhard and Pinocchio to a youth camp that trains boys to become soldiers. As you can tell, not much has changed and it fits into the overarching themes of the film.
This iteration tackles themes of the disconnect between generations, dealing with loss, growing up, and dealing with and defying a world full of hate via nationalistic extremes. Yeah, with this taking place in 1930 Italy, expect this film’s story to take an entirely different side of mature tones with Pinocchio discovering how fascist the country is. Also, alongside Titina, this is the second film this year that has brutal jokes and jabs at Mussolini and fascist extremists. Just a fun observation of recurring themes or gags against horrible human beings across multiple films. It even makes a poop joke work when those would normally be the lowest-hanging fruit of humor. It’s not all doom and gloom, but a lot of the journey is of Geppetto and Pinocchio’s broken relationship as Geppeto deals with the fact that he has a son, but can’t get let go of his sadness for the gift of life and having a second chance of being a father to our wooden lead. Pinocchio’s arc is more or less invincible when revealed by Death, and is also voiced by Tilda Swinton. Pinocchio’s arc then becomes learning how important and precious life is and how we can only do our best to find happiness in this life. It’s a compelling and deep story that still finds ways to be funny, heartwarming, intense, and fantastical. It’s something that only Del Toro and his team could craft into existence.
The animation is breathtaking. With the combination of ShadowMachine and The Jim Henson Company, Del Toro and his team of artists were able to craft an unbelievable visual treat. The way the characters look has this wooden doll/figure look to everyone, but are flooded with personality as you can tell what kind of people they are by their designs alone. They find ways to make things that would be unsettling to be full of whimsy. The reveal of Pinocchio is a good example of that. The craft on screen might not be as polished as you see in Aardman and Laika productions, but keeping the imperfections the same way Wendell & Wild does bring more charm than being overly polished with their animation. The lush backgrounds, the lived feeling of the world, the fact that parts of the world they live in does change with wear and tear make this one of the most fully realized worlds seen in film and animation. The voice cast is delightful. One of those most perfect ways to use a mixture of both named voice actors, character actors, and big names. It has some of its recurring Del Toro regulars like Ron Pearlman and Burn Gorman, but with the previously mentioned actors, they have Tom Kenny, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and Finn Wolfhard. Though it is great that in the credits, the animators are listed first over the celebrities, which should be a normal thing required by every animated film. The music is composed by Alexandre Desplat of The Shape of Water, Isle of Dogs, and The Grand Budapest Hotel fame. So you know he has a way of finding fantastical tunes and combinations that help elevate the moments in the entire run. Now, this movie is a musical with songs written by Del Toro, Desplat, and Roeban Katz, and while they aren’t the most memorable tunes, they grow on you and have their own charm to them with some great singing by our cast. They also add to the story and don’t detract from them.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a miracle of filmmaking. A beautifully crafted adaptation of a classic story that adapts and changes some of the elements most people know about from the original tale, but loses none of the heart and soul of the journey from beginning to end. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio is what can be considered a perfect film. A fabulous journey through the trials and hurdles of a father and son’s journey through loss, grief, acceptance, and overcoming adversity for being different, while also criticizing religious and nationalistic extremists. A film that doesn’t sugarcoat the flaws in our characters, and still leads you on one of the most satisfying journeys of storytelling in 2022. A film that not only tops the best animated films of 2022, but also the best film of 2022. It’s a reminder that animation is indeed film, and one needs to remember and accept that. Treat animation with respect. Now then, here is hoping we get a Criterion release of this film because it sorely needs a physical release alongside other animated films Netflix is keeping locked up on their service. For now, let’s go on a journey to Christmas time in London and talk about Scrooge: A Christmas Carol Netflix didn’t do a great job at letting you know existed. Anyway, see ya next time!