Pinocchio, directed by Academy Award winner Guillermo Del Toro, is one of at least three recent adaptations of this classic children’s novel. What immediately distinguishes Guillermo’s version from the others is that he reimagines the story using the age-old technique of stop-motion animation. This means that all of the moving objects we see on screen are physically manipulated in small increments between individually photographed frames so that they appear to move or change independently when the series of frames is played back. I like to think that technological advancements today would help to make this most time-consuming process smoother and easier, but I suspect that the entire process still requires an enormous amount of effort. This understanding of the technique involved allows us to appreciate the visual spectacle of the film much more. Everything we see on screen seem so seamless and fluid it is hard to imagine the effort taken to achieve this.
Guillermo Del Toro’s films frequently incorporate elements of horror and gothic into a fantasy setting. Here, we see his trademark with a surprisingly high number of horror elements for what is essentially a children’s fairytale. The sequences involving a traveling circus recall his Nightmare Alley imagery, and the horror of war is grimly depicted in scenes involving the Gestapo and the rise of the fascist regime in Italy at the time. These parts of the story may be upsetting to younger audiences, and we are reminded that this is not a Disney-fied Pinocchio. Nonetheless, this version faithfully follows the story and reimagines the story’s many iconic moments, such as the swallowing of the boat by a giant whale, into a wondrous form.
This adaptation’s visual brilliance and innovative take on a familiar story are not the only things to admire. The voice casting and talent work well with the film. Some of the casting choices in this film are surprising, particularly Cate Blanchett’s performance as the circus monkey Spazzatura. I honestly don’t recognize or picture Cate behind all of the mostly cackling and screaming! Ewan McGregor as the Cricket is another standout! Ewan even gets to show off his singing abilities when the original song Better Tomorrows is played at the end credits roll.
There’s a lot to like and appreciate in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, and you’ll see Pinocchio in a new light after seeing this version. This isn’t as family-friendly as typical Disney animation, but it’s a good alternative for more discerning and mature animation fans.