Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio (2022) poster

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)


USA. 2022.


Directors – Guillermo Del Toro & Mark Gustafson, Screenplay – Guillermo Del Toro & Patrick McHale, Screen Story – Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins, Based on the Novel by Carlo Collodi, Producers – Alex Bulkley, Corey Campodonico, Guillermo Del Toro, Lisa Henson & Gary Ungar, Photography – Frank Passingham, Music – Alexandre Desplat, Songs – (Music) Alexandre Desplat & (Lyrics) Guillermo Del Toro, Roeban Katz & Patrick McHale, Animation Supervisor – Brian Leif Hansen, Visual Effects – Bot VFX (Supervisor – Sean Pollack), Mist VFX, MPC (Supervisor – Aaron Weintraub) & Shadowmachine, Production Design – Guy Davis & Curt Enderle. Production Company – Double Dare You/Shadowmachine/The Jim Henson Company.


Gregory Mann (Pinocchio/Carlo), Ewan McGregor (Sebastian J. Cricket), David Bradley (Gepetto), Christoph Waltz (Count Volpe), Ron Perlman (Podesta), Burn Gorman (Priest), Finn Wolfhard (Candlewick), Tilda Swinton (Wood Sprite/Death), Cate Blanchett (Spazzatura), Tim Blake Nelson (Black Rabbits), Tom Kenny (Benito Mussolini/Right Hand Man/Sea Captain)


Italy in the 1930s. The wood carver Gepetto’s beloved son Carlo is killed after a bomb drops on the church where Gepetto is conducting restoration work. Gepetto mourns the loss. One night after getting drunk, Gepetto cuts down the tree that has grown over Carlo’s grave and drags it home and carves it into a puppet. The tree is where the insect Sebastian J. Cricket has set up home to write his memoirs. After Gepetto passes out, a wood sprite appears and brings the puppet to life naming it Pinocchio, while tasking Sebastian with being Pinocchio’s guardian. In the morning, Gepetto is startled to find Pinocchio alive. When Pinocchio wanders into the midst of the church service, the townspeople are fearful. Gepetto promises that Pinocchio will go to school but instead the wilful Pinocchio is lured away by the promise of a travelling circus run by the unscrupulous Count Volpe.

Pinocchio is a popular children’s story. It comes from on a book by Florentine writer Carlo Lorenzini (1826-90) who wrote under the pen name Carlo Collodi. Pinocchio started as a series of stories that Collodi serialised in the newspaper Il Giornale dei Bambini between 1881 and 1882 and then collected together in book form as The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883). There have been numerous film versions made of the story ever since the silent era (see below for a full list of these). The most well-known adaptation was the classic Disney animated version Pinocchio (1940).

Pinocchio has been a long planned dream project for Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro has an exemplary genre directing career with works such as the vampire film Cronos (1993), the intelligent bug film Mimic (1997), the Spanish Civil War ghost story The Devil’s Backbone (2001), the Marvel Comics adaptation Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), the awards-winning Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), the giant robot film Pacific Rim (2013), the ghost story Crimson Peak (2015), the amphibian man love story The Shape of Water (2017), which won him an Academy Award as Best Director, and the fake clairvoyant film Nightmare Alley (2021). (See below for a full list of Guillermo Del Toro’s other films).

Del Toro produces in conjunction with The Jim Henson Company. Del Toro shares directing duties with Mark Gustafson, a stop-motion animator who began work with Will Vinton on Return to Oz (1985) and The Adventures of Mark Twain (1986) and has supervised work on films like Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011). Gustafson’s one other directorial outing was various episodes of the tv series The PJs (1999-2000).

Pinocchio (voiced by Gabriel Mann) in Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)
Pinocchio (voiced by Gabriel Mann)

Del Toro’s film comes out two months after Robert Zemeckis’s Pinocchio (2022), a direct remake of the Disney film that was conducted in live-action with a CGI Pinocchio. Zemeckis’s version ended up being disliked by most commentators with everyone looking forward to Del Toro’s film for the real telling of the story. To avoid confusion between the two films, this version has been generally referred to as Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, which is the title that first appears as the end credits roll. To further add to the confusion, there was also Pinocchio: A True Story (2021), a Russian animated version that was released in English six earlier than the Zemeckis remake.

In terms of plotting, Zemeckis’s and Del Toro’s versions of the story cover remarkably similar territory. There is Gepetto the wood carver who makes the puppet in the likeness of his late son (a backstory that does not exist in the Collodi story); there’s the impetuous Pinocchio who is brought to life by a blue fairy (a character that does not exist in the original story but was introduced in the Disney film). There are almost the same episodes where Pinocchio is sent to school and is distracted aside by two shysters and sold into the circus. There is a climax in both films where Pinocchio and Gepetto are reunited at sea and swallowed up by a giant fish – a whale in the Disney film, whereas this returns to Collodi’s conception of a giant dogfish. The only major differing section is where the Zemeckis film has the boys being sent to Pleasure Island and turned into donkeys, an episode that comes direct from Collodi, whereas Del Toro has Pinocchio sent off to a fascist boot camp. There are other episodes and characters in Collodi but both film versions stay with the tried and true of what was conducted in the Disney film.

As Del Toro has stated, his is a much darker version of the story. The story opens with Gepetto’s son being killed in a bombing. When Gepetto makes the puppet, it is with none of the sentiment of Zemeckis and the Disney version – he chops the tree down while drunk. And when he brings it home, the images of him carving the wood are illuminated in the jagged silhouetted shots and soundtrack you usually get during the creation sequence of a Universal Frankenstein film. Both Zemeckis and Disney depict the cuteness of the clocks in Gepetto’s workshop, while at most here we get the far less rosy image of Sebastian being spooked by the appearance of figures popping out of one clock. Furthermore, when Pinocchio comes to life, Gepetto’s reaction is not one of joy, but immediately of fear and rejection.

Gepetto (David Bradley) and Pinocchio (Gabriel Mann) in Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)
Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio (voiced by Gabriel Mann)

Del Toro offers a fairly radical interpretation of Collodi. Collodi was writing in Florence in the 1880s and most film versions have kept faith with that in offering up an imagined 19th Century Italian setting. Del Toro updates the setting to some point in the 1930s (presumably before the outset of World War II) during the reign of Benito Mussolini and the fascists. Posters of Il Duce are everywhere in the streets, Pinocchio is sent off to a military camp and we even get an appearance of Mussolini near the end of the film.

Del Toro has a particular fascination with this era, the cruelty of totalitarianism and the way people follow such, as seen in films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, albeit dealing with the Spanish fascists. This is oddly enough not too far removed from Carlo Collodi, who was adamant as a political writer and satirist, having published several magazines and newspapers. He eventually became disillusioned with politics and turned to children’s writing, seeing the character of Pinocchio as a defiant, disruptive voice that challenged authority. The scene here where Pinocchio turns a circus performance that is a fascist propaganda piece into a farce is one you can be fairly sure Collodi would have approved of. Del Toro also digs his teeth into the Catholic Church and their collaboration with Mussolini – with Pinocchio in one sharp piece of writing comparing himself to the statue of the crucified Jesus and wondering why the locals love that particular wooden representation but hate him.

Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a fairly good adaptation, far better than Zemeckis’s soulless and far too modern audience-winking remake of the Disney film. It is a superlative feat of Stop-Motion Animation, something most modern audiences do not get and simply think they are seeing a regular work of animation. It is a new and unusual take and definitely moves away from being a children’s story. Del Toro does a superlative job with the build-up and in particular with depicting Pinocchio’s brattish rebellious nature. However, the political elements take over the second half of the film to the point that the original story gets lost somewhat. What we start out with is a new take on a familiar children’s tale, what we end up with is heavy-handed political satire.

Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor) in Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)
Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), the film’s equivalent of Jiminy Cricket

Guillermo Del Toro has also wrote/produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) and co-wrote The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), The Witches (2020) and the tv series Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (2022- ). Del Toro has also produced other genre works like Chronicles (2002), Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006), Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron (2007), The Orphanage (2007), While She Was Out (2008), Julia’s Eyes (2010), Splice (2010), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), Puss in Boots (2011), Rise of the Guardians (2012), Mama (2013), The Book of Life (2014), Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) and Antlers (2021), as well as the tv series The Strain (2014-7) based on his novel.

Other versions of Pinocchio are:– a lost Italian adaptation in 1911; The Golden Key (1939), an uncredited live-action version made in the USSR; the Disney animated version Pinocchio (1940); an Italian live-action version The Adventures of Pinocchio (1947); Pinocchio (1957), a 60 minute NBC tv special starring Mickey Rooney as Pinocchio; Pinocchio (1965), a lost CBS tv special; the animated Italian sequel Pinocchio in Outer Space (1965) where Pinocchio ventures into space; Pinocchio (1967), a live-action East German production; The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (1971), which was advertized with the immortal line “It’s not his nose that grows”; an Italian tv mini-series The Adventures of Pinocchio (1972); a further Italian animated version The Adventures of Pinocchio (1972); Pinocchio (1976), a US tv version with Sandy Duncan as Pinocchio; Pinocchio (1978), a four part animated BBC tv adaptation; The Adventures of Pinocchio (1976), a Japanese animated tv series; Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980), an hour-long stop-motion animated tv special sequel from Rankin-Bass; a US animated version The Adventures of Pinocchio (1984); an Italian animated tv series The Adventures of Pinocchio (1985); an animated American sequel Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987); an Italian version Occhio Pinocchio (1994); a live-action American remake with a CGI Pinocchio, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996), which also spawned a sequel, The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1999); a horror movie version Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996) that features a killer puppet; Gepetto (2000), a musical tv movie remake starring Drew Carey as Gepetto; Pinocchio (2002), directed by and starring Italian comedian Roberto Benigni; Pinocchio 3000 (2004), an animated adaptation that translates the story into sf terms with Pinocchio becoming an android; an Italian tv adaptation Pinocchio (2008); Matteo Garrone’s beautiful live-action Pinocchio (2019); and Pinocchio (2022), a remake of the Disney film with a CGI Pinocchio. In the 1990s, a further remake of Pinocchio also became the subject of a lawsuit from director Francis Ford Coppola, who attempted to mount his own version of the tale set during Nazi-occupied France, which hit the headlines when Coppola sued Warner Brothers for $80 million, claiming that they had sabotaged the project. Pinocchio also turns up as a character in the fairytale spoofs Shrek 2 (2004) and Shrek the Third (2007).

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