‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’: an animated Pinocchio in fascism and with ugly songs

If they are one of those who think that pinocchio (1940), a masterpiece of animation created by the classic Disney factory, is too cruel and inappropriate for the new generations of children, with its darkness, its drunkenness, its brutal punishments and those children with donkey ears because of their evil behavior, you just have to read the original story by Carlo Collodi, which was never designed exclusively as children’s literature: the wooden boy leaves Jiminy Cricket half dead with a hammer blow to the head when he reproaches him for his behavior; he goes with the fox and the cat not because they promise him fun but because they tell him that there is a mountain where if you sow money, it grows even more; at school he fights with his classmates and leaves one of them unconscious; and, in the original version, published between 1882 and 1883 in the newspaper Giornale per i bambini, he was hanged for his constant infractions.

Between 2019 and 2022, three new adaptations have been added to the dozens that had already been made for film and television. But perhaps the most striking thing is that two of them recover a part of the blackness and perversity of Collodi’s original novel, contrary to what the generally overprotective parents of today seem to demand. Except for the inconsequential version of Robert Zemeckis, with Tom Hanks as Geppetto, premiered this same year, both the one created by Matteo Garrone in 2019, with Roberto Benigni playing the carpenter, like the Guillermo del Toro which premieres today on Netflix, affect the darkness of the story to end up composing films not entirely intended for children, at least, for the youngest.

The greatest formal novelty of this Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro is that it is created in animation stop motion (frame by frame, based on original models), which is why, together with the Mexican filmmaker, the American Mark Gustafson, a specialist in the format, appears as a signatory of the direction. The second great innovation is that the genre of the film wanders between drama, fantasy and a touch of black comedy, with a special preponderance of musicals. True, the classic version of Disney had some notes with songs (“Tra-lara-larí, art is for me…”, sang the honest Juan), but little to do with the dozen songs created by Alexandre Desplat, with lyrics by Roeban Katz and del Toro himself. Songs, and here is the main shadow of the film, quite ugly, which continually weigh down the, on the other hand, uneven rhythm of a work that, in its first half hour, is too difficult to grasp.

Starting from a tragic prologue, del Toro has added a primordial subtext: that of the impossible repair of the pain for the loss of a child, in this case, that of Geppetto, which leads him in a drunken night to the creation of the wooden child and, in a certain way, to his substitution. A first section that, moreover, surprises (perhaps not for the better) due to the diversity of forms in the creation of characters, since each one seems elaborated by almost opposite techniques and styles: Pinocchio, barely a trunk, thus rescuing the essence of the text of Collodi, in a visual style of majestic risk; Geppetto, almost like a sacred art sculpture; and Jiminy Cricket, with a very strange and horrendous plastic-looking design that is impossible to empathize with.

However, this Pinocchio by del Toro does not stop taking flight after its debatable first section, reaching some dazzling moments. The time frame, with the dictatorship of fascism in Italy, the presence of Mussolini and the commitment of the black shirts in seducing the boy with his military paraphernalia and his victories, connects very well with the political use that was made of the Collodi myth in those times by the fascia, and naturally, with the current drifts in part of the world. They are the monsters of authoritarianism, which the director had already approached in The Pan’s Labyrinth. And while remorse carries less weight in this version, that form of temptation related to the rise of totalitarianism is probably the great value of del Toro’s rereading.


Address: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson.

Distribution: David Bradley, Anthony Mann, Ewan McGregor (voices).

Gender: animation. USA, 2022.

Platform: Netflix.

Duration: 117 minutes.

Premiere: December 9.

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‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’: an animated Pinocchio in fascism and with ugly songs

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