Between 1911 and 2022, “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi was adapted 22 times. Four of them were released between 2019 and 2022, five if we consider Martha from Knives Out as a modern version of Pinocchio. However, Matteo Garrone’s Italian adaptation, Russia (made famous by the English version featuring Pauly Shore) and Robert Zemeckis’ American version are each good, bad, and downright garbage. It was because none of them tried to do anything new with a popular fantasy tale, and some of the dark colors of the original text were sugar-coated. Therefore, when “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” appeared, the feeling of fatigue was predictable. But the film received nothing but praise during its limited theatrical run throughout its festival run. I’m here to add because directors Del Toro and Mark Gustafson really made it an all-time great.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is set in Fascist Italy in the 1930s, based on a novel by del Toro and Patrick McHale and a novel by del Toro and Matthew Robbins. It begins with Master Geppetto (David Bradley) and his son Carlo (Gregory Mann) living as peacefully as possible during the war. But when pilots accidentally drop bombs on the city, Geppetto’s life turns into a nightmare as he drinks to cope with Carlos’ death. A few years later, Cricket (Ewan McGregor) enters the scene and takes up residence in the pine tree planted by Carlos’ grave. However, that tree was uprooted by a drunken Geppetto and turned into a kind of wooden puppet. While Geppetto sleeps, the Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) appears and instills life into the doll, naming it Pinocchio (also called by Mann) and giving it the responsibility of being Pinocchio’s conscience, as the cricket has taken up residence in Pinocchio’s heart (chest). As the sun rises over Geppetto and Pinocchio, they embark on a journey filled with horror, beauty, and more.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio makes it clear from the start that fascism and Benito Mussolini are not background elements. Propaganda is spread through aggressive posters on the streets, and propagandists are everywhere, especially in churches. As long as the tyrant prospers, everything else will go to hell, for they ignore poverty, and Rome greets them in every conversation. But it doesn’t stop at del Toro, Gustafson, McHale and Robbins’ classic tales. They go a step further by explaining how children and entertainment can be turned into effective tools of fascism. They show us that if artists and ordinary citizens prioritize validation from dictators and their minions over their basic needs and rights, the process of conversion will go more smoothly. Like all good movies, the writers emphasize the importance of education, democracy, honesty, friendship, ethics, immortality, and selflessness as tools to resist fascism. If this isn’t the greatest adaptation of Pinocchio, I don’t know what is.
Honestly, I know this is the greatest adaptation of Pinocchio. Spoiler alert: It’s an animation. Yes, the 1940 Disney movie is considered a classic. But this does not mean that it should remain until the last moment. At least for me, if real-world fascism doesn’t destroy it, I’ll consider “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” for posterity for its importance, its craft, its balance of passion and realism. As mentioned earlier, subtext is carefully considered in direction, cinematography, editing, art direction, set design, animation, and everything else that your eyes capture. . The frames around Italy and the pictures in the afterlife are amazing. Sound design plays an important role in making every scene seem full of life. Alexandre Desplat’s score is amazing. The character designs look like they’ve jumped right out of the old books, but they have their own quirks that make them memorable. And del Toro and Gustafson’s handling of all these elements is nothing short of masterful.
The cast of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is clearly packed. Cate Blanchett as Spasztura, Bern Gorman as the priest, John Turturro as the doctor, and Tim Blake Nelson as the Black Rabbit who works for Death don’t get much screen or voice time to make an impression. Gorman, Turturro and Nelson are recognizable, but Blanchett is not. So, as much as I love all four of them, I guess it’s a fun gimmick to throw them into the role. As Finn Wolfhard, Candlewick, he’s always been great in everything he’s done in his short career. Ron Perlman as Podesta brings all the authoritarian gravitas he can muster to give us a truly nightmarish villain. Tilda Swinton is hypnotizing and soothing as Wood Ghost and Death, channeling her character’s nightmarish, eye-filled designs. Christoph Waltz as Count Volpe is magnetic, charming and strangely charming. But the film really belongs to McGregor, Bradley and Mann, who can truly break, mend and steal your heart with their performances. Mann deserves an extra round of applause because this is his third role and he’s working with true acting veterans, and he’s still playing his part!
In conclusion, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is one of the best movies of the year and one of the best movies of all time. Calling any piece of art that resonates with anything going on at the time of its release “relevant,” “important,” or “timely” is too much of a cliché. But that’s all because del Toro and Mark Gustafson’s film comes at a time when propaganda films and shows are being produced in large numbers from almost every country under fascist rule. If you can’t identify which movies and shows are propagandizing for your country, you have to understand that the story and production values go under the radar and are flashy enough to attract attention. When it comes to using children for propaganda, you will see only international leaders supporting politically insensitive children for their nefarious purposes. And it’s obviously gross and disgusting. Therefore, an eye-opening tool that can reach the masses is needed. I think this new depiction of Pinocchio will serve that purpose as well as be a great viewing experience.