By Janie Walenda
What do you get when you combine Guillermo del Toro, stop-motion animation and the darker elements of a classic fairytale? You get a creepy, existential and charming film.
As in the plentiful other versions of Pinocchio, the titular character is lively, irresponsible and ultimately has a big heart. However, only del Toro’s version has Pinocchio’s creation shot like the creation of Frankenstein. His first living moments are creepy instead of cheery.
What truly brings Pinocchio to life is Gregory Mann’s performance. His voice acting is impressive for such a young actor, especially since this is only his third acting credit. Between Mann’s performance and del Toro’s and Patrick McHale’s screenplay, Pinocchio is a consistently engaging character, ranging from rambunctious, curious and troublemaking to compassionate and kind-hearted.
The rest of the voice cast is equally talented. David Bradley brings both despair and warmth to Geppetto, and Ewan McGregor makes a hilarious Sebastian J. Cricket.
The biggest strength of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is its reinvention of the classic tale. While “Pinocchio” has always been centered around themes of truth and obedience, this film explores those more fully, especially obedience. The film also has the most compelling exploration of the father-son relationship. Neither Pinocchio nor Geppetto is perfect, but the love that grows between them feels real.
One of the most obvious changes to the story is Pleasure Island. Now depicted as a fascist training camp instead of an island full of pleasurable vices, Pinocchio is transported to this camp to train for war. This furthers the film’s nuanced depiction of what it means to be obedient.
The other strength of the film is its stunning animation. “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” carves out its own unique style, which is simultaneously charming and disturbing. It feels like the perfect fall movie thanks to its warm color palette. Pinocchio’s character design is fantastic; he’s expressive and sticks out from the human character without falling into the uncanny valley.
Finally, the film is unexpectedly emotionally resonant. It is beautiful to watch Pinocchio grow and learn how to care for and love those around him. Geppetto’s journey is also engaging, even with less screen time. Cricket unfortunately doesn’t do a lot, but he is a catalyst for the final revelation of the film, one which brought me to tears.
Ultimately, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” succeeds because it deepens and fully explores the themes of the classic fairytale, creating the most complex version of the story to date. This is easily one of the best animated films I’ve seen this year and ranks up there with some of my favorite animated films of all time.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is now streaming on Netflix
Janie Walenda is a sophomore Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation and cold brew.
Images courtesy of Netflix