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MOVIES (LFF 2022): Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio - Review

Dark fantasy is a genre that few are brave to tackle - especially fantasy aimed at kids, so it was refreshing after the Disney so-called "live action" remake this year that we'd get a Pinocchio worthy of the original source material, finally - from the master of well, dark fantasy - Guillermo del Toro. He's made amazing films over the years that I've loved consistently - be they Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water or Nightmare Alley, his most recent and my favourite of the best picture nominees aside of this year aside from Drive My Car. Few understand how to terrify and delight a global audience of all ages - and Pinocchio is very much of that mould, an immaculately crafted tribute to the original Italian source material by Carlo Collodi, that has been told and retold so many times you'll know many of the plot beats - so nothing here won't be a spoiler at all.

del Toro contextualises the creation of Pinocchio from the start by showing us in a gorgeously animated sequence reminiscent of Up, a montage of a young boy growing up in a small Italian village. Geppetto is the builder of the Church's local statue to Jesus; and he's raised a so-called "model Italian son", beloved by all - but when the bombs fall, in tragic fashion - his son Carlo is killed and Gepetto, in a drunken stupor, ends up creating Pinnochio who is blessed with live and a protector in the form of a cricket. It's a spectacle, amazingly crafted from the offset with animation that rivals Kubo and the Two Strings and Coraline especially in the creature design and the tone - the magical fantasy element of it all is appropriately surreal and appropriately mesmerising.

From the start of Pinocchio's creation you see a coming-of-age tale against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. Porco Rosso's "it's better to be a pig than a fascist" famous line feels like it represents the heart of what this movie is going for here in its tone; and it's quickly apparent for Pinocchio himself that Mussolini is not his friend - the Dictator cartoonishly mocked by del Toro at every chance he gets, arriving to a play in a ridiculously long car in a way that absolutely works. Like Pan's Labyrinth the film explores the rise of fascism and its dangers from the perspective of a child, with the complex, adult themes making sure that this is going to get a very interesting reception with the general audience - one thing's for sure, there's not a chance in hell this would have ever aired on Disney+ in its current form. But as always the magic with del Toro's work is that he can craft a spectacle for all ages, 8 or 80 - and that's reflected with the love, care and beating heart of the animation that looks absolutely spectacular.

David Bradley is perfectly cast as Gepetto - he brings a touch of the First Doctor and Argus Filch to the role but makes him his own, you buy the anguish and remorse that he cares for his son opposite Gregory Mann, who captures the innocence of Pinocchio. It's a musical, you bet it is - and the gleeful innocence of the songs are captured before you. Pinocchio experiencing everything new for the first time through the eyes of someone just born into the world is a highlight of the film; and the running gag about Ewan McGregor trying to get the chance to sing but never getting to is perfectly done. del Toro finds a way for the light hearted humour of it all even in the darkest of moments, capturing a story of friendship and hope that shines. The relationship that Pinocchio builds with the people that he meets resembles the bond that Paddington does with whoever he encounters; it'd be fascinating to put them in the same room and see what happens.

Charming and a delight from start to finish, Pinocchio is a spectacle that has has to be seen on the big screen. A real, honest-to-god marvel that might just be del Toro's best since Pan's Labyrinth that I absolutely adored.

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