Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Writers: Guillermo del Toro (screenplay by), Patrick McHale (screenplay by), Carlo Collodi (based on the book “Pinocchio” written by)
Stars: Ewan McGregor (voice), David Bradley (voice), Gregory Mann (voice)
Through ruminating on events of the past few years, I do think it is important to acknowledge a core tenant of fascist ideals. This may seem like an odd way to introduce a review for an animated film intended for children, but Guillermo del Toro has always had a penchant for capturing the minds and hearts of youth and merging them with the horrors and anxieties of adulthood; in no film is that more present than his adaptation of Pinocchio.
Fascism tends to yearn for an invisible day gone by. It emphatically praises the past, emphasizing its superiority to the present. It fights for the revitalization of a time that once was, yet it is a time that has never been. Fascism yearns for nostalgia in a time long past because generally it was a time when the successes of some could mount far higher and more aggressively over the belittlement of others, and it uses the feeling of youthful ignorance as a means to fuel its superiority.
This rhetoric is as prevalent today as it was in the 1930s when this version of Pinocchio takes place (see? I told you I’d get to the point eventually). Mussolini rules over this fantasy reframing of this classic fairytale (and he’s even played by voice-acting titan Tom Kenny). On the surface, this establishing world may seem like an afterthought—or at the very least a loosely related set piece to focus on the story about wishes and about what makes something real and whatever else you typically associate with this story.
But on the contrary, I think there is no setting more relevant to the conceptual identity of Pinocchio—this version of Pinocchio, anyway—than the one crafted for this film. Geppetto yearns to create something to satiate his grief. After a thrilling opening sequence that establishes heartfelt emotional tethers that lace beautifully with the thematic relevance of the setting, we’re presented with a mirror dynamic of sorts.
On an intimate scale, Geppetto wishes to reset the clock. He yearns for nostalgia in a time that never was. His grief dooms him to force Pinocchio into someone he is not and makes him susceptible to calamitous misfortune. He creates instead the idea of a thing that can never be the thing itself, and because of his shame, he pushes away the very thing he yearns for.
On a macro scale, Geppetto is another of the fallen comrades, blinded by declarations of an unachievable future and disillusioned by an invisible past. Were he several years younger, the film would likely take a darker turn as he himself enlists in the fight for his country, but the story is still centered around a young boy with an earnest desire to understand the world at large, and it is through that boy that we learn to subvert our expectations of this tragic theme?
Through Pinocchio, the audience is meant to translate love in the face of the unspeakable horrors projected by those in power. The value of life is not that it is unending. Instead, the value is determined by the shared stories that rest in the heart of us all. It is in the learned understanding of our collective experiences. The path of progress is not yearning for a time gone by, but learning from a time worked towards.
Pinocchio is a film that continues to amaze me with the rich depth of its emotional resonance. There are many antagonists who plague the film, but time is the most prevalent of all as it takes more and more from the characters at the center of the story. Yet, in life, we learn to work in tandem with time lest we be doomed to fight it in futility and miss on the present moments before us. Through the themes of this story, the biggest antagonist, time, has a true chance to be redeemed, just as Death—another prevalent character in a more literal sense—is not seen as a foe but rather an obstacle that will one day give value to the life lived.
All of this is not even complimenting the stellar stop-motion animation which revitalizes the genre with a vibrant poignancy managing to capture a grounded look that feels heavy and consequential without ever branching too far out of the realm of its magical realism. The voice work is stellar across the board as it emboldens the physicality of these characters with astonishing fluidity.
I would be remiss to not at least mention Desplat’s marvelous score that delicately influences the moments with all wooden instruments clearly reflective of the titular character. Were the film to fall short in any aspect, it would be in the shortchanging of one particular character who is used more as a slap-stick punching bag than a voice of reason, but the film’s climax makes even this misstep into a worthwhile endeavor proving that even the smallest of us have boundless compassion.
Pinocchio is a film that teaches love rather than preaching it, and it makes it feel achievable even in a time when the world can feel cruel and anything but loving. 9.4/10