Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio


When Italian writer Carlo Collodi wrote The Adventures of Pinocchio in 1883, even he probably couldn’t foresee what an enduring legacy he created.

His wooden creation has fascinated audiences over the years, as well as inspired a myriad of other versions, including the truly awful recent attempt by Disney no less, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Robert Zemeckis, which was a total travesty.

It would be intriguing to know what Collodi made of all these versions, particularly the many porn parodies – such as 1971’s The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio that it’s safe to say, he wouldn’t have seen coming.

He’d probably be more open to this animated version however, coming as it does from visionary director Guillermo del Toro.

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Living in a small town in Italy is carpenter Gepetto (David Bradley), not that he’s working much as he’s still grieving over the death of his young son Carlo.

During a drunken stupor, he begins to craft a puppet out of the finest pine, in the shape of a young boy. Now passed out, he receives two visitors: one is Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), who had taken up residence in the pine tree he cut down, and the other, wood sprites who magically bring the wooden boy to life.

Understandably Gepetto gets quite a fright when he wakes up, to see his creation now walking and talking. His initial emotion is fear, but this soon subsides when he discovers how life-like his little wooden puppet is.

The next part however, is far trickier, introducing the puppet, named Pinocchio, to the rest of the town folk, as they both try to convince them that he really is a boy at heart, despite the fact that his is made of wood.

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With so many versions of this story already out there, it’s difficult to see why we would need anymore. Del Toro saw a need however, by bringing his version to life using the classic technique of stop motion animation. For those not entirely au fait with this technique, it’s the process of making models, then painstakingly filming them, by moving them one frame at a time. To say it’s time consuming is an understatement, but the results, as they are here, are impressive.

Less so is the Mexican director’s treatment of the story. Firstly, it’s a musical. Now anyone old enough to remember will be aware that the classic 1940 film featured some fun ditties including “I’ve Got No Strings” and the monster hit “When you Wish Upon a Star”. It seems peculiar then that someone would decide that they can write better songs than these, and Del Toro has had a hand in writing the music featured here. And it’s safe to say, none of them are memorable or on par with the original songs in any way. So why do it? It would be like doing another musical version of Grease and writing a completely new soundtrack for it. Which of course, no one in their right mind would do.

And then there’s the story itself, which Del Toro – along with his co-director mark Gustafson - overcomplicates to a fair degree. He sets it during the war, which is fine, but instead of using a fascist Italy as a backdrop, he later brings it into the fore, to the point that he has Pinocchio training with young fascist soldiers, as well as perfornming for Mussolini himself.

Now if he were to complete re-work the story that would be less of an issue, but sandwiching it between Pinocchio on his travels performing in a circus, and then later being swallowed by a whale, just becomes a Frankenstein of a plot, lacking any kind of sense or cohesion.

And then Del Toro throws in the Christianity symbolism, comparing Pinocchio to Christ himself, and then featuring a scene where the puppet is actually crucified. Sure, the little wooden guy has a lot on his plate, but comparing him to Christ is somewhat of a stretch. Again, it just comes across at throwing too much story into a well established story as it is.

He doesn’t get the character quite right either. Admittedly there’s a fine line between an enquiring mind and just being downright annoying, but Del Toro’s character jumps firmly with two wooden feet into the latter camp. It also doesn’t help that the voice he chose doesn’t feel right for the character; it’s a little too high pitched, borderline cartoon-like, and no-one wants a whiny little shit. No one.

It’s not all bad news however. The animation is utterly charming, and certainly a throwback to classic stop motion work. There’s even a character that is physically familiar to the mythical creatures that that the legend Ray Harryhausen created back in the day.

The question is though, is this technique too sophisticated for modern audiences? After all, they’ve been spoon-fed the wonders of CGI for so many years, it’s doubtful that many will be wowed by the intricate craft that comes by way of this traditional technique.

It’s a curious little film, that occasionally feels like the director is paying homage to the incredible animated works of Tim Burton more than anything - and doing a far more inferior job at it – than concentrating on putting more of his unique stamp on it.

This is a version that definitely has no strings, but alas, much like Pinocchio himself, lacks real heart.

we give this two out of five