In the wake of Disney’s derivative, live action remake of their own animated property, releasing another version in the same year as such a critically maligned adaptation is bold. Considering how much remakes are loathed for there brazen indolence and blatant nostalgic exploitation, it’s commendable that a movie as compelling as “Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio”, embraces the bleakness of the source material, that until now has been sterilised by Disney’s gentrified model. Only someone of Del Toro and Mark Gustafson’s shared singular vision, could possess the initiative clarity to adapt a story we thought we already knew, and remind viewers that with just a simple shift in tone, Pinocchio has always been firmly rooted in a twisted mythology that lends itself so well to Del Toro’s depiction of fascist Italy.
Set in the emerging shadow of WWII, a local carpenter Gipetto, consumed by years of grief at the loss of his son and in a moment of drunken rage fells a tree his son planted before he died, carving an effigy of him in a futile attempt to regain his lost son. When a mysterious entity imbues this little wooden boy with life, a familiar tale unfolds, infused with some requisite Del Toro horror. By instilling the story with an intended bleakness, this adaptation benefits from a solemnity sorely missing from Disney’s original. It doesn’t shy away from death with diluted asides or musical distractions. But lingers on its destructive influence, and just how bereft the passing of a loved one can be. That grief can’t be remedied by a saccharine musical number or comedy routine. It’s not afraid to embrace the melancholy of death, but to embrace it. To depict the sadness of loss as an emotion as natural as life.
Then there’s Pinocchio himself. A characterisation that benefits from the scripts astute focus on depicting a child like boy, that has no understanding of humanity or indeed mortality. With an exuberant inquisitiveness of childlike enthusiasm, Pinocchio is as irritating as he is destructive. A child that struggles with the concept of living, in a society that views something as miraculous as Pinocchio as an insidious evil in the eyes of God. No where is this sense of religious contradiction more apparent than when Pinocchio wanders into a church full of parishioners, condemning his existence, as an effigy of Jesus nailed to a cross presides over their sanctimonious judgements. Despite his autonomy and his effusive desire to be loved, even by his own father, he remains steadfastly fervent. Even when he is manipulated as a tool for Nazi propaganda! The exploitation of something pure, for the purpose of greed or the promotion of a duplicitous regime is even more sinister when it’s a child, wooden or not. Pinocchio is still a boy wanting to please those around him, so earnest and eager to be alive and experience the joys of living, that even in a World corrupted by the tyranny of war and riddled by the cult like lunacy of fascism, can still see the beauty of the world. Even when it isn’t easy for everyone to see.
This Pinocchio is as Dark and gritty as it is gorgeous and reviting. With a perfectly assembled cast to compliment some of the most fluid stop motion animation the industry has ever seen. Characters that are complex and floored, that don’t always do the right thing or even understand what they did wrong. The years of tortuous dedication to get this movie made were well spent. It doesn’t pander to children, but imparts an important message that has been formally diluted by other renditions. That mortality is a precious thing. That death is as much a part of living as life and that without that knowledge, we can never truly appreciate the finite time we have.
Life isn’t perfect, nor is it without tribulations, but we certainly appreciate life more when there’s an expiration date.