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Review: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pinocchio’ breathes new life into a timeless story

Graphic by Sarah Irwin

This year has seen multiple adaptations of the classic tale “Pinocchio,” with Disney releasing a live-action remake in August, and a strange Russian version starring Pauly Shore that premiered in February.

While both of those versions of “Pinocchio” left much to be desired, it took a true auteur of the craft like Guillermo del Toro, aided by co-director Mark Gustafson, to show exactly how to masterfully adapt Pinocchio’s tale in the modern era.

Using primarily stop motion animation, Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” manages to be one of the most visually stunning films to come out this year. There is a near-limitless amount of breathtaking character designs, environments and movements that make the film a sight to behold for any fan of this type of filmmaking.

The film has a number of similarities and parallels with what you come to expect from the story of Pinocchio, the wooden boy made by Gepetto who comes to life, gets moral advice from a cricket, joins a circus and learns to be a real boy. The places where this film differs from other tellings of Pinocchio’s story is where it truly shines.

The backdrop is Italy between World War I and World War II amidst the rise of fascism and Benito Mussolini. It’s a factor that is always at play and grows in fear and magnitude as the film goes on, overall adding to and amplifying the gothic and much darker retelling of this classic story. The film doesn’t shy away from displaying discussions about death, grief, forgiveness and other adult themes. Initially, these concepts may seem to be too much for a kids’ story like “Pinocchio,” but they enhance the overarching message of the film.

“Pinocchio” is a film that, unlike the other adaptations from this year, is willing to take risks, form its own path and define itself as a unique and original retelling of a story that has been enjoyed for over a century. At the same time, it manages to pay homage to the original novella, accomplishing the rare adaptation feat of both giving its dues and standing on its own.

In a year that has had so many great animated films, including excellent stop motion animated pieces like “Wendell & Wild” and “Marcel The Shell with Shoes On,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” is among the best that animation has had to offer this year. It’s a film that just might go down as one of the defining animation achievements of the 2020s. 

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