The idea of two Pinocchio films in one year is an exhausting premise, especially considering even the great Robert Zemeckis couldn’t pull it off earlier this year – but if there’s any director who can take a fairy tale and turn it into something both unique and warm, it’s Guillermo del Toro. At first glance, it may seem like an odd pairing, but from the moment the film itself begins, Toro’s vision makes all the sense in the world and by the end affirms itself as possibly the best rendition of this story. Yes, I’m including the original Disney film as I make that claim. All due respect to the films and adaptations that have come before, but I’ve simply never loved this story and these characters in the same way I did for this version.
In all fairness to the past Pinocchio adaptations, this version has a leg-up on the others due to being so fundamentally different in a lot of major ways. While the film still is about a wooden boy being built by his father and magically coming to life via the help of a magical spirit and the guidance of a talking cricket, the film is also set within the backdrop of Mussolini’s Italy and very much has themes of war and politics on its mind. Another big departure from the original material is the emphasis on the idea of grief, and Gepetto’s love for his lost son. All of this is beautifully articulated through some truly incredible animation that is so vast in detail and beauty, making these characters spring to life in such a vibrant way – and it makes us as audience members care all the more about this journey of love, life, and loss.
You also can’t talk about this film without talking about the incredible voice cast, from David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchet… the list goes on and on. But a true highlight of the cast for me is that of Ewan McGregor who plays Sebastian J. Cricket (Jiminy Cricket in most versions) – McGregor serves as almost a co-lead of the film, and just like every other adaptation, a voice of reason. McGregor’s interpretation of the character is matched with so much wit, heart, and depth that he nearly stole the show from the titular character!
Much like Guillermo del Toro’s previous films such as The Shape of Water or Pans Labyrinth, Pinocchio falls into the category of being a fantasy film with very mature themes and often times dark subject matter that you wouldn’t typically see in other films like it. However, Pinocchio feels like his most accessible film to date – even though it deals with heavy subject matter like death, grief, and the politics and horrors of war, it still feels like an ultimately beautiful tale with a genuinely thoughtful life lesson. The third act of this in-particular is such a home-run that it made me full-out cry, and that’s a tough feat!