Netflix’s Pinocchio Review: Del Toro and Gustafson craft a masterful rendition of a timeless tale
Legendary director Guillermo del Toro and seasoned animator Mark Gustafson deliver a visually stunning and deeply emotional adaptation of Pinocchio for Netflix that’s one of the strongest depictions of the classic story to date.
Now, it’s worth noting that while the film takes inspiration from Carlo Collodi’s 1883 Italian novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, it heavily stands apart in its depictions. Rather than carpenter Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) simply wanting a son, he’s a grieving man suffering from the loss of his son Carlo (voiced by Gregory Mann) during a bombing incident in WWI. After Carlo’s death, Geppetto falls into a state of grief for years until he drunkenly decides to craft a new son in the form of a wooden puppet. That night, a mystical Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton) arrives to fulfill Geppetto’s wish by bringing the puppet to life and giving it the name Pinocchio (also voiced by Mann). Thus, the film follows Pinocchio’s adventures during a turbulent WWII and his growing relationship with Geppetto.
Pinocchio’s stop-motion animation not only brings a unique look to this classic fairytale, but also to its Italy setting through both World Wars. Its depiction of this dark, Fascist-ruled era of Italy showcases a part of WWII that’s rarely seen, and the imagery of Nazi rule keeps things grounded in an interesting way. Although it might seem odd to stick a curiously happy character like Pinocchio into such a grim time in human history, it’s incredibly fitting and reminiscent to another Italian war film, Life is Beautiful. Pinocchio’s innocence and charming curiosity often make him a light amongst the darkness and allows for mature themes and moments to be depicted in ways that audiences of all ages can connect with. Oddly enough, you come away appreciating Pinocchio’s story more through this war setting and often find yourself laughing and tearing up from seeing innocence trek through dominating factions.
The stop-motion aesthetic also feels akin to del Toro’s visual style splicing in some fantasy horror to his character designs. Although it can be a tad off-putting at first, especially Pinocchio, this style really puts a fresh coat of paint on classic characters. Pinocchio’s look grows on you fast and its largely thanks to Mann’s excellent performance that comes through the wooden textures. The sense of light-hearted joy and unconditional love he boasts with nearly every line makes Pinocchio feel like a real boy bursting with a sense of adventure. His personality is truly larger than life and absolutely wraps itself around your heart within his first few scenes. Bradley is equally as excellent as Geppetto in how he makes his lingering grief and struggles to learn how to be a father again deeply moving throughout. Ewan McGregor’s voice as Sebastian J. Cricket is also a treasure for both his excellent narration and funny attempts to be a fair conscience to Pinocchio in his endeavors.
Truthfully, del Toro has pulled together an ensemble voice cast like no other that really makes their respective characters unique. We even get to hear Christoph Waltz play another tantalizing nefarious villain, which is always a treat. They all fit into the more grounded tone of the time and feel of Pinocchio flawlessly and it’s great that the music is just as strong, if not stronger. Personally, I didn’t even know that Pinocchio would have original songs alongside Alexandre Desplat’s phenomenal score, but I’m so glad it did. The songs in Pinocchio are simply perfect and easily conjure up some great emotion. Songs like “My Son” and “Ciao Papa” will easily have viewers swinging their beautiful melodies and clutching at their heart because of raw emotion they evoke. These songs add so much to the scenes they’re apart of and are a key part to the film having your heart till the very end.
What’s most impressive though with Pinocchio is the story as it slowly melts your heart through its central father/son story. Geppetto’s grief already leaves a massive hole in your heart because of how relatable real his loss feels, but Pinocchio’s arrival sparks this building change in him to try and become a father again. Sure, watching Pinocchio go on many misadventures with his endless glee never gets old and is easily the film’s greatest hook.
Yet, it’s the growing bond between Pinocchio and Geppetto that leaves a lasting impact because of how it doesn’t shed away from tough moments and ends on such a cathartic note. The film’s ongoing conversations about death are legitimately compelling to see unfold, especially for Pinocchio, and there’s a building theme that’s life-affirming and comes through beautifully in the film’s final sequence. The entire last stretch of Pinocchio continually swoons you with the real bonds that are made and the remarkably touching final moments that’ll bring audiences to tears. It’s easily one of the best finales I’ve seen in recent time with how its final message leaves such a deep impact and it shows a different side to del Toro’s storytelling that’ll make you see him in a different light as a filmmaker.
Pinocchio is an absolute masterpiece and a strong showing for del Toro’s vision for storytelling, atmosphere, animation, and every element that culminates in a great film. Although it might seem like a simple retelling of Pinocchio, the heartwarming father/son bond it boasts alongside fantastic music, amazing animation, and deeply relatable themes about life easily make it stand apart.