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Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

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2022

‘…this Pinocchio is too worldly for kids, yet doesn’t have enough dramatic heft for an adult audience…’

Or Netflix’s, Carlo Collodi’s, Not-Disney’s, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio; it feels like we’ve got Pinocchio coming out of both ends right now, with last year’s overhauling of the classic kids story by Matteo Garrone probably the best of the bunch. But you’d probably have to have a wooden heart to not get something from Del Toro’s stop-motion version for the streamer, which has admirable detail and a fresh take on the story, even if it eventually falls between several stools as entertainment.

‘In this world, you get what you give,’ is part of the new, radical advice given to young Pinocchio, a puppet brought to life by a master craftsman, Geppetto (David Bradley). Devastated by the loss of his son in a WWII bombing raid, Geppetto goes on a boozed-up bender and creates a wooden parody of his lost child, one brought to life by the Blue Fairy (Tilda Swinton’s usual headmistressy turn, groan) and the lad is wanting nothing more than to be a real boy. His story is narrated by an eyeless cricket called Sebastian, which is voiced by Ewan McGregor; this spindly creature was making his home in the tree that Geppetto used wood from to make his puppet son…

‘Why do they like him and not me?’ wonders fresh-faced Pinocchio as he examines a wooden effigy of Jesus Christ that his father is repairing in the local church; there are big questions to be derived from the original text, but this version seems to have problems finding the right focus. This is certainly set in a non-fairy tale world, with liberal cursing (‘freaking, bugger, mook’), smoking cigarettes and the rise of Italian dictator Mussolini as the inevitable dash of Trump-era commentary. Pinochio ends up meeting Il Duce, and going to a paint-ball training camp, but Del Toro and his co-director Mark Gustafson eventually bring things back for a traditional finale involving Geppetto stuck inside a giant dogfish, some kind of sea monster instead of the usual whale. There’s also a horrible, slavering monkey creature played by Cate Blanchett that I could have done without.

As well as a slavish attention to visual detail with some help from the Jim Henson company, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio has a more knowing script than most kids films; Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) spits out ‘All these kids are for sale,’ as he follows the lead of Tom Hanks in the Elvis movie to use contractual management to turn his shows into as tight a grift as possible. The animation is often impressive in the exaggerated style of Henry Selick more than Jan Švankmajer, but the songs are scattered, and for all the historical and religious allusions, the result is just not that different from the usual wooden story.

‘Will he eventually die? I think so,’ Sebastian Cricket reassures us towards the end of this overlong, overstuffed film; it’s something of a relief to picture the little tyke finally popping his wooden clogs after this exhausting adventure. Guillermo del Toro seems to have been so intent on making period of fantasy classics that his touch with reality seems weak; he’s not made a film set in any kind of recognisably modern world since 1997’s Mimic. Netflix seems to offer great directors a train-set to resurrect their discarded ideas, but what the streamer can’t conceal is the reasons the projects were originally discarded; this Pinocchio is too worldly for kids, yet doesn’t have enough dramatic heft for an adult audience.

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  1. I saw the last one and wasn’t that impressed. This story has already enough subtlety to make its points and we hardly need someone to batter us over the head with it. Plus, what, no songs? When I compare Matilda these are the kind of effortless songs I’m comparing it to.

    • I guess there’s a relationship between director and streamer that develops beyond this, but there’s too much fairy tale to balance a history lesson.

  2. What goes through directors’ minds when they create stuff like this? Do they really think other people want to watch something like this? Or are they insulated from reality, or does it not come out how they envisioned? Or are they so ego-filled that they don’t care but only want to produce a movie and get paid?

    Any thoughts on this issue?

    • We can totally agree about this. I think you are right: successful directors think something is important because they think that they are important and if they want it, everyone should want it. And we can also agree that these directors are wrong. It’s just self-indulgence and vanity, two things that neither of us have any time for.

      • They are SO wrong.
        Important people like you and me haven’t got time to waste on stuff like this.
        I mean, if either of us were self-indulgent or vain, we’d be writing blogs and making nonsense comments instead of being Captains of Industry in our respective markets. I shudder to think of a world like that!

  3. I liked it until Ewan arrived in scenes but was thankful he didn’t go full tilt Scottish Jimmy Cricket. Reminded me of the spooky cartoons – think one was based on Peter and the Wolf – we Scottish kids got on Bank Holidays.

  4. Is that liberal as in ‘lots of’ or liberal as in meek?

    Someone once said Netflix is where great directors go to make their worst movies, but maybe del Toro isn’t quite a great director?

    Best Pinocchio (ish) I’ve seen is Spielberg’s/Kubrick’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence

    • That’s a good shout; if you’re going to update a classic story, you might as well go Jude Law as Gigolo Joe. This is halfway between a reboot and a rework; historical fantasy? Either way, it’s no Tin Drum.

      Yes, that’s the right liberal. I put liberal amounts of chocolate powder on my cornflakes.

      Netflix are like a channel for discarded projects by A listers. They really do get the least commercial projects from the most commercial directors. Bottom drawer, as we say in the biz.

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