Capsule Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

Oh, boy! Another Pinocchio movie? We already had one three months ago in the form of Disney’s CGI/live-action hybrid of the same name. Despite the would-be promising combo of Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis, it was a lukewarm effort that could have been better.

I was initially sceptical about Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, considering I have to sit through another familiar tale of a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. But it’s hard to deny that his name alone would pique one’s curiosity, especially with Del Toro directing the movie alongside Mark Gustafson, who previously served as an animation director for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox (2009).

Thankfully, my doubt is quickly replaced with a sense of hope from the moment the movie immerses me with Ewan McGregor’s spot-on voiceover narration as Sebastian J. Cricket. Del Toro and Gustafson even firmly establish the relationship between Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) and his son, Carlo (Gregory Mann) right from the get-go. The elaborate prologue during the first 10 minutes or so gives us the wonderful father-son dynamic filled with joy and later, bittersweet moments leading to Carlo’s unfortunately tragic death.

Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) in "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" (2022)

With Carlo already gone too soon, Geppetto has a tough time moving on with his life. He would cry and cry and wallow in self-pity while drinking his sorrow away. He just can’t stand the fact that his son is no longer by his side, which in turn, prompted him to build a wooden boy out of a chopped pine tree.

What follows next is a mix of familiarity and bold new materials and for the former, the checklist is all here: We have a Blue Fairy (Wood Sprite in this version and she is voiced by Tilda Swinton) brings the wooden boy a.k.a. Pinocchio to life and tasked Sebastian J. Cricket to guide and also look after him. There’s a scene where Pinocchio would go to school on his first day and subsequently encounters a scheming puppeteer (Christoph Waltz’s Count Volpe) and his monkey servant/henchman Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), who determines to exploit him for monetary gains. And of course, a climactic third act where Pinocchio and the rest deal with a giant beast of a whale.

Count Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz, far left) in "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" (2022)

Given its title, this isn’t just your average Disney-fied version of Pinocchio. The basis of the story may have been there but the movie isn’t afraid to explore the darker path. In other words, we see themes of mortality and even the bizarre but subtle depiction of the afterlife. Del Toro, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Patrick McHale also incorporates the horrors of war against a backdrop of the fascist Mussolini era without making it too scary for kids to stream the movie.

The decision of turning this movie into a stop-motion animation makes it even more unique. It’s visually top-notch regardless of the character designs, the body movements and all the intricate backgrounds. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio equally benefits from an all-around excellent voice cast, notably David Bradley in his sympathetic turn as Geppetto and Gregory Mann in his dual turn as Carlo and Pinocchio. As for the rest, Christoph Waltz proves to be the right voice to play the conniving Count Volpe while Ewan McGregor delivers strong support as Sebastian J. Cricket.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is currently streaming on Netflix.