Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Musical Gothic Animation
Availability: Netflix, in English
Storyline: Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film is a reimagined and restaged interpretation of Carlo Collodi’s classic children’s fantasy novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio. There have been many previous adaptations, but none quite so dark and metaphysical as this one. Mostly set in Italy during the time of Mussolini’s fascist regime, the story begins with Geppetto, an woodcarver, who is restoring a crucifixion in his local church. His son Carlo is with him and just as they are leaving, Carlo returns to the church to retrieve the prized pinecone that he has left behind. Shockingly, a stray bomb falls on the church killing Carlo. Geppetto is grief-stricken, and descends into years of drunkenness as he mourns the loss of his son. Then, in an angry and intoxicated state, he carelessly carves a marionette which becomes Pinocchio. Soon the rough hewn and petulant Pinocchio is noticed by the Podestà, a sinister officer in the fascist regime, who sees him as a free thinker, but not in a good way. He is then discovered by Count Volpe, a charlatan who tempts Pinocchio from Geppetto’s care and exploits him in his travelling circus.
Film-craft: This is a spectacular production. Filmed in stop-motion, it is amazingly detailed and beautifully animated. This, and the minacious brilliance of del Toro’s interpretation, makes the film a bold and ambitious retelling of the Pinocchio story. Mostly more dark than delightful, I would have preferred more of a sting in the final scenes, which tend toward sentimentality, albeit with an existential flavour. On the other hand, it is a children’s fantasy story, so maybe that is too great an expectation. Classified as a musical, the songs could have been more experimental.
Cast: The real stars of this production would have to be the team of animators who have worked to bring this truly exceptional production together. The film also has a sterling voice cast. David Bradley brings a warm and gentle presence to Geppetto’s character, and the young Gregory Mann is terrific playing the Italian equivalent of an enfant terrible with full-blown ADHD. Tilda Swinton brings her mellifluous voice to the wood sprite, and the decision to cast Cate Blanchett as Spazzatura, the shrieking wordless monkey, speaks volumes about the weirdness of the film overall. Regardless, Blanchett is impressive without having to say a word.
Personal Comments: Like many other adaptations, del Toro’s Pinocchio engages with notions of love and what it means to be human, but that is not the major focus. This interpretation is explicitly about death, loss and grief, the brutality of war, and the insidious influence of fascism. There are chilling scenes of children and young people being recruited into Mussolini’s fascist youth army as they are herded off to training camps. The Catholic Church is also satirised, with the local priest performing stiff-arm salutes in deference to the Podestà. And on top of all this, there are layers of fantasy, some grotesque, others mystical. There is awful lot going on in this film, and it’s probably unsurprising that it loses coherence here and there. But if you liked Annette, and rich gothic with more than a touch of the bizarre, you may well like this one. On the other hand, if you are looking for something to watch with the kids this Christmas, this is probably not the one. Instead I suggest you try the Wallace and Gromit-styled Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas, which is also on Netflix. Now that’s thirty minutes of unfettered fun.