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‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ review: stop-motion spin on the classic dazzles despite indulgences

It carries all its provenances and influences right there on its wood and modeling covers, in every way Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is what it is.

That tautological phrase, synonymous with resignation and acceptance of flaws, even crops up in the final minutes of the film. It’s like confirmation that just as life is messy and wonderful, so is this baggy, sometimes ragged but often beautiful adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s episodic book about a living wooden doll, first published in the late 19th century.e century, shown here via beautifully executed stop motion animation.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

It comes down to

It has no strings to tie it up.

Location: BFI London Film Festival (Headline Gala)
Form: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton
Directors: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro, Patrick McHale, based on a screen story by del Toro and Matthew Robbins and the book Pinocchio by Carlo Collodic

1 hour 57 minutes

Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film scaled down the darkest, cruellest parts of the source material and sanded out the more nightmarish elements. (But not quite! Over the years, many kids have been psychologically scarred by those donkey transformations.) This take on the material, co-directed by del Toro and Mark Gustafson (animation director of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox) and co-written by del Toro and Patrick McHale (from animated series Adventure Time), brings back a lot of the scary parts of Collodi, but a lot more. It is no more “true” to the source than the Disney version or most of the many and varied film, TV and theater productions with the name “Pinocchio” in the title.

That’s a strength. Through a sort of thematic jiu-jitsu, the filmmakers have turned what was often read as a morality tale preaching obedience in children into an allegory of “imperfect fathers and imperfect sons,” to voice the voice of Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor). ) to quote. – a story that pushes for acceptance of people for what they are. It even celebrates disobedience in a way, especially when it comes to disobedience to fascists, a topical lesson for toddlers today. These fascists are the old-fashioned, Benito Mussolini-worshipping variety of the 1930s and 40s, straight into the action via the setting updated to Italy at the start of World War II. Il Duce, or Il Dulce as Pinocchio calls him, even appears as an honored guest at the puppet show where our pine-derived hero (voiced beautifully by British child actor Gregory Mann) has been pressured to appear in.

There are many original inventions in Del Toro and McHale’s script that are effective, powerful and clear, such as that shift of the period setting. Effectively splitting the life-giving Blue Fairy into two different magical creatures painted in different shades of blue – one a benevolent forest spirit and the other a sphinx-like creature called Death no less, who brings Pinocchio back to life over and over – is also inspired . (Both are voiced by Tilda Swinton with a distorting effect, like an evil vocoder.)

The same goes for the preamble that Geppetto shows (David Bradley, who has a busy autumn with this in 2022, Catherine Called Birdy and allelujah) and his firstborn son Carlo (also Mann) live in ecstatic, almost unhealthy happy interdependence with each other before Carlo is killed by a stray bomb on a church during World War I. That last move highlights how much this has always been a story built on grief and loss, going back to the original text where the Blue Fairy, like so many mothers felled by childbirth itself, is apparently killed.

Neither necessarily good nor bad is the way the film gestures beyond Collodi to the work of one of its directors. As if putting his own name in the title wasn’t enough, del Toro makes his presence felt in almost every frame. From the supernatural creatures with eerie peepers scattered all over their bodies – like one of the most famous monsters in The Labyrinth of Pan with eyes in his hands – to the carnival settings that recall his last feature film, nightmare alleyand the watery realms reverberate The shape of water and other back-catalog efforts, the film sometimes plays as an album of the greatest hits of the del Toro tropics. The passionate fans of the author, whose number is legion, will probably swoon over the self-quoting; more discerning, less indulgent viewers may find this self-reference a distracting sign of grandeur or even just plain laziness.

Personally, I’m somewhere in between. Being the kind of critic who’s hardly ever seen a stop-motion animated movie she didn’t like, especially if it’s just too scary for kids, and who loves any adaptation of Pinocchio, this movie is right in my sweet spot. The fact that the filmmakers deliberately choose, according to the film’s press notes, to make the animation a little stiffer, drawing attention to the technique and not smoothing it out as it could so easily have modern technology got, is the maraschino cherry. in the sweet spot.

In addition, we get delicious creepy valley sprinkles in the character designs for the living, non-wooden characters, people who are expressive but not at expressive, always aware that we are watching a stop-motion puppet show. The best is Count Volpe (creamy voiced by Christoph Waltz), a stealthy, lanky impresario who is a mash-up of the Fox and Mangiafuoco in the Collodi text, a character with fantastic hair like a hedge of angry copper beech who battles with a lawnmower.

His monkey mini-me enabler Spazzatura (the word means garbage in Italian) is a less effective piece of design, looking like a reanimated corpse of a marmoset, but maybe that was entirely intentional. It’s lovely, though, that Spazzatura’s various grunts, screeches and monkey cackles, and a few odd lines in real English, are uttered by Cate Blanchett. This is perhaps the best example of a distinguished, celebrated actor hired to make animal noises since George Clooney provided the voice of Sparky, the gay dog ​​on South Park.

Where the film is more problematic is the editing and pacing, a flaw it shares with too many Netflix-produced features. Although, again, it’s nice that room has been made for eccentric digressions and gags such as, for example, scenes with rabbits playing cards reflecting Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s famous paintings of dogs playing poker, it’s not so funny that we had to see it twice or three more times. I’m tempted to say there’s a leaner, stronger movie in it that could have been coaxed, but in light of the movie’s message about accepting people as they are, maybe we shouldn’t watch this movie too disgrace. It is what it is, and that is perfectly imperfect.

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