REVIEW: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson’s ‘Pinocchio’

Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson’s ‘Pinocchio’ is a visually stunning tale of life and death.

Pinocchio, once a beloved animated classic from Disney, was given new life this year thanks to a hybrid live-action film from Disney and director Robert Zemeckis and a stop-motion take from Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson. Disney’s take, which starred Tom Hanks as Geppetto, was considered a misfire by both audiences and critics alike. While featuring an all-star cast, the movie itself often felt wooden. There was no charm to it, no spark, so it’s not entirely surprising then that many have been curious about Del Toro’s take on the legendary tale, especially given he has called the fable one close to his heart. While it’s often uneven, Del Toro and Gustafson have crafted a visually stunning adaptation that is incredibly emotional and worthy of a watch.

When it comes to the tale of Pinocchio, the story basics of the story are well-known. A boy puppet eager to become a real boy, and who must prove himself worthy of doing so. That story is still at the center of this take, but Del Toro and Gustafson manage to craft an even more compelling tale around it. While the Disney remake suggested Geppetto had a son, we never really learned much about him or what happened to him. In this version of Pinocchio, though, we get to see Geppetto and his son, Carlo, and their relationship before a tragedy cuts their time together short. It’s an incredibly heartbreaking moment that is handled with such care. It’s this particular scene that separates this version of Pinocchio from those before it – this isn’t a sugar-coated child’s tale. The emotion radiates off the screen thanks to the beautifully done stop-motion and the agony in the voice work.

That isn’t to say this adaptation of Pinocchio is without its flaws. This stop-motion take often feels like it drags, while somehow also managing to jump all over the place. It can be incredibly off-putting, but those able to make it beyond those moments will find that the uneven journey results in a beautifully told story. In a letter to the press, Del Toro explained that when crafting this take on Pinocchio, he wanted to showcase just how “brief and significant we are in our time with each other.” And although the film sometimes stumbles over its handling of death, it ultimately does highlight the heartbreaking reality of life and death.

I longed to do a film full of light, that would explain how brief and significant we are in our time with each other – and I wanted to do it with heartbreaking beauty and rendered by the most human craftsmanship. So, I chose one of the most delicate, artisanal forms of our art form – stop motion animation – and pushed it as much as possible.

Del Toro

The classic Disney songs will, obviously, not be present in this take. And that does, unfortunately, hurt the movie as the songs introduced in their place are forgettable and don’t really add much to the film overall. In fact, most of them go on far longer than necessary. Much like the film itself. While a visual feast packed with an emotional story, the movie’s nearly two-hour runtime is definitely felt by the end.

All in all: Pinocchio is a heartfelt movie that welcomes its viewers to reconsider what we leave in our wake upon death. It’s a heartbreaking tale meant to remind us to live.

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