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Film Review: ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ is a Stop-Motion Achievement That Sneaks Up On You

Netflix
Netflix

When it was announced that Guillermo del Toro was going to be making a stop-motion animated version of Pinocchio, I didn’t know what to think. After all, such an original auteur potentially seemed above this. Well, how wrong I was. With a title like Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, you know that the iconic filmmaker is going to be front and center in this take on Pinocchio. Truly, this film is filtered through his unique view of the world. The result is not just an entertaining movie, but a unique bit of animation that isn’t easy to shake.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio sneaks up on you. There are laughs, sure, but there’s also a poignancy that only becomes fully clear by the end. It’s never especially light or especially heavy, but the themes at play are some of the big ones we all deal with as human beings. It all builds to a final few moments that may bring a surprising tear to your eye.

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The story we all know is reimagined by del Toro, while staying true to the inherent darkness of the source material. Here, as told to us by Sebastian J. Cricket (voice of Ewan McGregor), the wooden marionette Pinocchio (voice of Gregory Mann) is brought to magical life in order to help the grieving woodcarver Geppetto (voice of David Bradley) get over his departed son Carlo (also Mann). Pinocchio is hardly welcome in Fascist Italy, catching the eye of a military man named Podesta (voice of Ron Perlman). His curiosity and mischievous nature is anathema to what’s going on in the country at the time.

When the marionette ends up performing at a carnival run by the cruel Count Volpe (voice of Christoph Waltz), it’s the start of an adventure not just for Pinocchio, but Cricket and Gepetto as well. By the end of it all, Pinocchio will learn lessons and, of course, learn what it is to love and to be a real live boy.

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The voice acting is across the board solid, even if one or two characters are a little bit broader than the rest of the work. Ewan McGregor and Christoph Waltz go bigger than everyone else, but they’re hardly unenjoyable. The lesser known names, like David Bradley and Gregory Mann are best in show, while Ron Pearlman is as menacing as you’d expect. Supporting voices include Cate Blanchett, Burn Gorman, Tom Kenny, Tim Blake Nelson, Tilda Swinton, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, and more.

Directors Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson are heavily invested in the animation here, and it shows. Co-directing, they poured their hearts and souls into, with sometimes stunning results. The script, co-written by del Toro, Patrick McHale, and Matthew Robbins, will seem very different from the animated Disney classic if that’s all you know of the story. They’re using the original book as a guiding light, with one of their best decisions being to set it in Fascist Italy. Not only does it give Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio some extra heft, it gives it a distinct personality. Even beyond that, the animation is just gorgeous. Throw in another score from composer Alexandre Desplat that’s aces and it’s certainly a technical achievement.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio could be a little intense and even odd for the littlest viewers, but everyone else should have a lovely time with it. Whether you’re admiring the stop-motion or enjoying del Toro’s specific view of the story, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into. It’s likely to be one of the frontrunners for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and rightly so.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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