February 2, 2023

netflix pinocchio animated movie review

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – (pictured) Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann). – Image: Netflix

The latest Netflix production from Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro, PINOCCHIO, is now streaming, but should you check it out?

  • Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940).
  • 2 times nominated for an Oscar Pinocchio starring Roberto Benigni (2019).
  • Disney+ Original Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks (2022)

These are just some of the many adaptations of Carlo Collodi’s children’s story The Adventures of Pinocchio since its publication in 1883.

We have all grown up with some version of the story and as a culture we are well versed in the story of a wooden doll coming to life to experience the adventures of the great world. Nose growing. Sea beast escapes. You get the idea.

So when I heard about the smashing critical reception of the latest portrayal of Pinocchio by acclaimed director/producer Guillermo del Toro, I thought, “What’s so special about this? We know. We understand it. Disney remakes their classic stories all the time now and they rarely live up to the version we already have. How can this be worthy of its lineage?

While some of those thoughts may be valid, the beauty of this latest release is that I don’t think Del Toro thought about those thoughts at all.

Based on Gris Grizzly’s draft from his 2002 edition of the original 1883 novel, del Toro’s vision for this project has been ingrained in him since he was a young boy himself.

“No art form has influenced my life and work more than animation and no character in history has had such a deep personal connection with me as Pinocchio,” said del Toro. “I’ve wanted to make this movie for as long as I can remember.”

What emerges is a combination of del Toro’s ever-present fascination with the interaction of a ‘monster’ with the human social fabric through the lens of childish exuberance and naiveté.

It should come as no surprise that the creator of films like Pan’s Labyrinth & The Shape of Water has long been fascinated by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a character he has his eye on for an adaptation for Netflix) and felt that the comparison to the Pinocchio story is more similar than most people would conclude.

In this film, Pinocchio is brought into the world and forced upon his society without a guidance system or education to shape what it means to be “human.” Because Pinocchio is seen as a child versus Frankenstein’s monster, the adults in his orbit try to control, manipulate, and exploit him more than destroy him. The comparison to his own childhood experiences caused del Toro to relate to the feelings both Pinocchio and Frankenstein’s monsters must endure.

With all this in mind, it should also come as no surprise that del Toro’s Pinocchio story has more heart, more realism, and more darkness than the previous cinematic adaptations.

old man in Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – (L-R) Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) and Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley). CR: Netflix © 2022

The film is set in a small Italian village during the rise of fascism under Mussolini’s authoritarian rule in the 1930s. The film does not shy away from the harsh realities of that period and how it would affect the decision making of our protagonists and the response of the village. to a spectacle like Pinocchio. Meditations on religious ideology, collateral damage from war zones and especially grief are shown entirely without the typical guardrails set up in modern family movie narratives.

The truly unique part of this version of the classic story is that the movie belongs to Gepetto as much or more as it does to Pinocchio. His loss is profound and his grief is extensive, including a not-so-subtle alcoholism that would normally remain hidden from the eyes and ears of children. We’re confronted with all aspects of him, making for a more genuine connection with the film’s audience and a more grounded story that deserves its empathetic and heartwarming conclusion.

While daring in its design and execution, it should be noted that I wonder how the general public, especially parents of young children, will react to this retelling. Shifting the focus, removing the Disney veneer and more lavish music tracks, adding elements such as child soldiers during fascist regimes makes this more effective but less friendly to discerning family palettes.

Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio Netflix

Image: Netflix

Like most critics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t gush about this film’s animation style. del Toro’s love of Disney animation and the original 1940 film adaptation led him to stray from the two-dimensional perfection of the classic model and create a bold, gothic claymation style mixed with modern digital rendering. It’s a stark contrast that pairs well with the dark but grounded storytelling switch that accompanies it. A warm “welcome back” to the Jim Henson Company, who co-produced the look and feel of the film and reminded us that the team that brought you The Dark Crystal can still bring it to today’s animation landscape.

The film is also supported by some incredibly compelling voice acting led by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Ron Perlman, David Bradley, Finn Wolfhard, John Turturro and the exuberant Gregory Mann as the titular Pinocchio.

All in all, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio creates a new chapter in the legacy of the classic tale. It moves the story to a more realistic depiction of a grief-stricken man who finds a way to forgive himself and traverses life’s cruelty to embrace fatherly love once again. del Toro’s constant challenge about what being human is is a welcome addition to this traditional children’s folktale that we all thought couldn’t be developed.

This is my favorite animated movie of the year and arguably Netflix’s best animated movie yet.


Watch Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio on Netflix if you like:

  • The iron giant
  • Coral
  • Corpse bride
  • Fantastic Mr Fox
  • Frankenweenie
  • Pinocchio (1940)

MVP of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio

Christoph Waltz as Count Volpe.

Though a combination of the classic duo Mangiafuoco & Fox and Cat, Count Volpe’s character breathes life and originality into this new adaptation as a plausible villain seeking to exploit the naive stringless doll for his own financial gain. Waltz’s performance stood out among his star-studded cast of peers with his sinister style, dominant tone, and surprisingly singing chops I didn’t know he had.


PLAY, PAUSE OR STOP?

PLAY.

A welcome twist that adds more empathy, compassion and gothic style to a well-worn story.

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