The warning for parents is right there in the title of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” a visually stunning animated film that is not made for children. By including the name of the director (who is responsible for sinister titles like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Nightmare Alley”), it should be clear that this is a different kind of Pinocchio. The classic story of a wooden marionette who is magically brought to life by a grieving father has been retold by filmmakers many times, but never quite like this. Del Toro’s version fully embraces the darkest elements of the fairy tale, and his film is one with ominous and mature themes.
The film is set in 1930s fascist Italy under the rule of Benito Mussolini, a time of great political conflict. This lends an ominous feeling to the story, which incorporates scenes of war. Pinocchio may be a magical tale, but this film doesn’t shy away from real-life strife that stems from combat situations. Characters are killed (Geppetto’s own child is murdered by a bomb), and Pinocchio himself is repeatedly fatally injured and sent to a scary version of the afterlife that’s populated with creepy rabbits. The wooden boy may be immortal, but it’s still frightening to see him get hurt and “die,” over and over.
This is not a kid-friendly film, and it certainly isn’t a suitable babysitter. Younger kids likely won’t understand the content, but the film’s imagery could spark many restless evenings filled with vivid nightmares. Older kids may appreciate the style, animation, and original (but overly melancholy) songs, but the themes and messaging probably will sail right over their heads. The film features existential views on the meaning of life and death, is critical of religion, explores the dangers of immorality, and drives home the very valid sentiment that war is hell. Other themes like the constructiveness of disobedience, the effects of authoritarianism, and how a lack of compassion often leads to cruelty are all strongly presented throughout the story. A great deal of the film is unsettling, even for adults.
The voice performers are all talented and well-cast, including David Bradley as Geppetto, Gregory Mann as Pinocchio, and Ewan McGregor as Cricket. Rounding out the cast are Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, and Christoph Waltz, all terrific in their roles (even Cate Blanchett shows up as simian sidekick, Spazzatura).
Using stop-motion animation, the film is a technical achievement. The artistry is astounding, exquisitely detailed and fully realized. This is the type of film that demands repeat viewings just so you can catch everything. It’s a feast for the eyes, and animation fans who appreciate the craftsmanship of the medium will applaud the creativity on display.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is an original, unforgettable, enchanted nightmare.
By: Louisa Moore