PINOCCHIO BY GUILLERMO DEL TORO, a stunningly realized stop-motion animation

There’s a moment in the amazingly realized Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro where the familiar main character (successfully voiced by Gregory Mann), newly granted a semblance of life driven by a compassionate supernatural spirit, attempts to greet his new “father,” Geppetto (David Bradley), for the first time.

Essentially a newborn with the powers of speech, thought, and mobility of a ten-year-old, a clumsy, clumsy Pinocchio emerges from the shadows crawling on all fours, a spider-like creature that sends Geppetto into paroxysms of fear (also, functioning). It is a sign – but not the first nor certainly the last – that del Toro (alley of nightmares, The shape of water, Chronos) the stop-motion adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s classic will veer into dark fantasy and gothic horror central to del Toro’s visual, narrative and thematic preoccupations as a filmmaker.

This introductory encounter between Pinocchio and Geppetto also contrasts sharply with the original Walt Disney adaptation made nearly 80 years ago and the positively abysmal live-action/CGI hybrid directed by the former great Robert Zemeckis more recently. While Zemeckis’ adaptation was nothing more – and often, much less – than the result of a grab at a company’s money meant primarily as a trademark and copyright extension, the del Toro’s iteration, co-directed with Mark Gustafson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) and financed by the considerable coffers of Netflix, is nothing less than the work of an author working with the best talent available to realize his decades-old dream of making a stop motion adaptation of Pinocchio.

Originally located in 1916 in Italy during World War I, Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro opens with a lengthy prologue that presents Geppetto at a much happier time, widowed, but contentedly living as the father of Carlo, an angelic, perpetually angelic preteen. Geppetto also takes immense pride in his work as a woodcarver, diligently trying to complete an enormous crucifix of Jesus Christ for the local Roman Catholic Church.

However, when a wandering bomb falls on the church, Geppetto finds himself no longer a father, his faith shaken and all hopes for a meaningful life gone. Del Toro repeatedly dwells on Geppetto’s anguish, not out of a desire to exploit a lone character’s desperation for engagement or audience interest, but as an act of genuine empathy for the unimaginable loss. of Geppetto, making Geppetto’s seemingly insane prayer for his god to bring his new sculpted “son” to life even more reasonably.

Lost in a tangled thicket of his own grief, it is not the absent Roman Catholic god (a commentary in itself on Western organized religion), however, who answers Geppetto’s tear-stained prayers more than a decade after the death of Carlo, but a pre-modern wood sprite who, like the public, responds to the loss of Geppetto with sympathy. In a wave of his magically propelled hand, the wooden puppet receives a “divine spark”, thus becoming alive and moments later trying to connect with his “father” for the first time.

As already mentioned, this goes awry, though Geppetto’s loneliness eventually gets the better of him and he begins to accept Pinocchio less as his son than as Carlo’s replacement. The same goes for the film’s narrator, Sebastien J. Cricket (Ewan MacGregor), who becomes Pinocchio’s part-time companion and full-time conscience through the machinations of the wood sprite who brings Pinocchio to life in wood.

Unsurprisingly, things are going badly for the ersatz father and son duo. Pinocchio is anything but devoted or obedient. Imbued by his creator with an overflowing curiosity for the world and a mischievous side, he is practically the mirror image of Carlo. This, in turn, sets up the central conflict between an “imperfect son” and an “imperfect father”, each expecting or wanting what the other cannot or will not reciprocate.

For Pinocchio, this means crossing paths and falling under the sway of two false father figures, Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), a decrepit aristocrat turned carnival impresario who attempts to exploit Pinocchio’s singular existence for personal gain, and Podesta (Ron Perlman), a local fascist who sees in Pinocchio, somewhat absurdly it should be noted, the perfect soldier for Mussolini’s Italy (that is, almost immortal).

Setting Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro in fascist Italy under the reign of Benito Mussolini directly links del Toro’s adaptation to his other anti-fascist parables, The Devil’s Backbone and Pans Labyrinth. Set during or immediately after the Spanish Civil War, both films depict not only the typical horrors of war, but the specific horrors of that particular war that resulted in the triumph of fascism and Franco’s 40-year dictatorial rule.

The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth lined with both supernatural tales and cautionary tales about fascism and its brutal, brutal power, a revelation Pinocchio learns first-hand through Count Volpe (exploitation with a human face) and Podesta (authoritarianism in military uniform).

Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro is in theaters now in Toronto, New York and Los Angeles, and will hit theaters across Canada on Friday, November 18. It will begin streaming worldwide on Netflix on December 9. it looks great!)

Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro

Director(s)
  • Guillermo del Toro
  • Marc Gustafson
Writers)
  • Guillermo del Toro
  • Patrick McHale
  • Matthew Robbins
Cast
  • Gregory Mann
  • Ewan McGregor
  • Ron Perlman

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