It is said that great movie directors do not follow rules but illustrate them instead, and “Pinocchio”, an animation feature film directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson, surely exemplifies that. Yes, we are all familiar with that famous Italian fairy tale of the same name written by Carlo Collodi, but del Toro and his crew splendidly bring new life and personality into its very familiar story and characters, and the result is quite refreshing and poignant besides being another impressive masterwork to be added to del Toro’s long and illustrious career.
Like many of del Toro’s works, the film has considerable darkness at its center, and that aspect is evident during its prologue part set during the 1910s. After unfortunately losing his only son due to the World War I, an old rural woodcarver named Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) has been quite morose and depressed during next several years, and then he makes one impulsive decision when he becomes quite drunk at one night. Using a pine tree which has grown near his son’s tomb, he quickly makes a little wooden boy which vaguely resembles his dead son, and, what do you know, this little wooden boy soon comes alive thanks to a little intervention from a magical fairy voiced by Tilda Swinton.
Geppetto is certainly surprised to see his impulsive creation being very alive in the next morning, and the film has some naughty fun with how Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) causes lots of stir in Geppetto’s village. While many of villagers are understandably outraged, the fascist mayor of the village is willing to use Pinocchio for his political cause, and he is even ready to send him to a military training school for boys.
Despite all the troubles caused by Pinocchio, Geppetto comes to care a lot about Pinocchio, and so does Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a little travelling cricket who initially resided in that pint tree. As he promised to the fairy, Sebastian tries as much as possible for guiding Pinocchio along with Geppetto, but then our little wooden boy gets himself associated with a seedy circus ringmaster who instantly sees a golden opportunity from Pinocchio, and that is just the beginning of many troubles (and adventures) to come to him.
While mostly staying true to Collodi’s fairy tale, the screenplay by del Toro and Patrick McHale, which is based on the story by del Toro and Matthew Robbins, tries a series of interesting variations along its narrative. As expected from its 20th century background, fascism functions as another kind of evil besides that circus ringmaster, and this aspect eventually culminates to when Pinocchio and many others are sent to a certain isolated place. No, they are not turned into donkeys here, but the film has its own dark moments to unnerve us while never losing its sense of fun and wonder.
Above all, Pinocchio’s bumpy journey toward being a real boy is handled with enough interest and gravitas to hold our attention. As he frequently encounters with the other fairy who is also voiced by Swinton, the story deftly handles those matters of life and death without overemphasizing them, and that resonates a lot with Pinocchio’s certain important choice around the end of the story.
Furthermore, the film is a visual joy to behold thanks to its top-notch stop-motion animation, which imbues extra fantasy qualities onto the story and characters. Pinocchio looks rather shabby and imperfect at first, but he gradually becomes more endearing as we observe small and big details on his wooden appearance, and we come to care more about him even when we rolls eyes for his irrepressible spirit and innocence. As he goes through one adventure after another, the film provides a number of impressive moments to behold, and you will not certainly be disappointed at all around the time when our little wooden boy happens to be stuck along with Geppetto in the stomach of one big hideous sea creature.
And there are also several wonderful musical numbers provided by composer Alexandre Desplat, who previously collaborated with del Toro with “The Shape of Water” (2017). Besides working pretty well in the context of the story, these musical numbers surely make the film relatively more cheerful than many of del Toro’s darker works, and I particularly enjoyed the one involved with Pinocchio’s little irreverent payback moment against the circus ringmaster.
Around Gregory Mann and David Bradley, the film assembles many different performers who have each own fun with their respective colorful supporting roles. While Ewan McGregor is surely the standout in the bunch, Christoph Waltz, Burn Gorman, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Tim Black Nelson, and Finn Wolfhard are also solid in their voice acting, and you may be a little surprised by what Cate Blanchett did here in the film.
In conclusion, “Pinocchio”, which is currently being shown in South Korean theaters before being eventually released on Netflix early in the next month, is one of the better adaptations of Collodi’s fairy tale during recent years, and it is surely one of the best animation films of this year. Will it become a timeless classic just like the 1940 Walt Disney animation film? In my inconsequential opinion, that is quite possible, and I think you really should behold its enchanting qualities on big movie theater screen instead of watching it at your home.