We all know how the recent live action Pinocchio movie went: another in the long line of Disney botches in their attempt to fix things that didn’t really need to be fixed. So all bets were off that Guillermo del Toro’s version of Pinocchio was going to be the superior version by a pathetically LONG margin.
Lo and behold, this ended up becoming one of my favorite adaptions of the story.
Considering how stop motion is a DYING form of filmmaking because of how time consuming and expensive it is, it only makes it stand out all the more when so much love and care goes into every frame. Stunningly haunting while also blending the realistic and fantastical, the animation bleeds GDT’s style, feeling pulpy and gothic while keeping its PG rating. Great aesthetic attention expressed in character and production design with the right emphasis into these sets and saturated color and detail….and of course, Del Toro’s directorial style can’t be taken for granted.
Pacing is brisk and contained, the surreal visual spectacle of the story is buoyed by how
very mature it is in tone, somehow working well with its fascist Italy-set backdrop while throwing in some well-thought flashes of humor and silly-goose antics for good measure and the darker worldbuilding, though no less stirring or alarming, has a creepy yet soulful ambience to its setting and historical backdrop.
Of course there’s a bucket’s worth of memorable dialogue buoyed by complex three dimensional characters, further carried out by an overall enthusiast cast of veterans and newcomers alike; looking at you, Gregory Mann.
And then there’s Alexandre Desplat, whose general instrumentally diverse approach to composition makes for a charming musical score appropriate for the material and while the songs are fairly basic, they get the job done.
Combining both the original story and the Disney plot together, what the plot presents us is a modernized tale of the classic story praising the wonders of childhood, faith and friendship up against the all-consuming tyranny of fascism, deceptive show business, the importance of questioning authority and the double edged sword regarding time and life itself. It’s conceptually heavy without compromising its well-known qualities at its core, knowing when to be cautionary and optimistic at certain intervals. The way the script’s thematic focus is firmly centered on Gepetto’s loss and the effects those expectations have on a young child is a stark contrast between the actual effort of this film and the lazy, by-the-numbers approach from Disney. There’s always something telling whenever a film tries to convey humanity's worst and best impulses.
How they switched the story beats around was also rather innovative, like how they merged Honest John and Stromboli to keep the focus just a bit tighter, since they chose to first show us the history of Carlo and Geppetto. Replacing Pleasure Island with a fascist youth training institution is dark as hell, but still fits a narrative purpose similar to the Coachmaster's line from the original Disney movie. Some bits of it don’t do much for what’s being presented but makes up for it later by having Pinocchio question his morality and what it means to truly live like it is your last day alive. Of course the outline of the story is still similar to what we’ve grown accustomed to all these years so some beats of the story aren’t surprising, but I’d say enough of it is presented a certain way to keep you entertained throughout no matter what your age.
This is yet another movie that showcases that while the price of the movie does matter, it still kinda doesn’t because even with the least financial backing behind it, this one had the correct visionary outlook behind that created something truly magnificent. It not only does Justice to the source material and Disney’s version of the story but makes sure to utilize the intricate talents of EVERYONE involved.