Throughout his illustrious career, Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro has been known as an innovator and one of the most beloved filmmakers working today. From his debut film in 1993, Cronos, del Toro has never shied away from the fantastic and originality. So whether you love or hate his movies, there’s no denying you know you’re watching a del Toro film.
With his recent stretch of films, including the Best Picture winner The Shape of Water and Best Picture nominee Nightmare Alley, del Toro has been on a hot streak at the Academy Awards, and his latest film, Pinocchio, should continue that trend. Of course, I can imagine anyone reading this review is rolling their eyes at the mere mention that another adaptation of Pinocchio is heading to the Oscars. Still, no better filmmaker can bring originality to a mundane and overdone property than Guillermo del Toro.
Pinocchio has been adapted 21 times, bringing numbers into the discussion, with its 21st adaptation by Disney released just two months back to downright dreadful reviews. The only similarities the 21st and 22nd adaptations (this one) of Pinocchio share are in its title, and that they are both directed by Oscar winners. However, with the latter Oscar winner, del Toro’s adaptation has been a passion project. That passion jumps off the screen as Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a magical journey I did not want to end. A sublime and visually engrossing masterwork by one of our great directors. A meditative deconstruction of one’s mortality, love, and innocence.
Del Toro and his co-director Mark Gustafson set this story iteration in the 1930s during the reign of the National Fascist Party and Benito Mussolini. Attempting to live their lives through this time of turmoil are Geppetto and his son Carlo, who live on the outskirts in a cottage away from the unrest the country is currently battling with, or so they thought. However, after an unfortunate accident takes the life of his only son, Geppetto is left grieving and broken. To fill the void left by his son, Geppetto chops down a tree planted after Carlo’s death and creates what will become Pinocchio. What follows is a loving story between father and son and lessons learned about humanity, sorrow, and the realization that even the boy made out of wood offers more love than flesh and blood.
As with del Toro’s films, Pinocchio is handled with care and intricacy. Every piece of this stop-motion masterpiece is purposeful and rich with meaning. There is no denying that stop-motion animation has been an essential part of cinema for decades, with Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox cementing itself as the golden standard. With Pinocchio, that standard has been elevated to even greater heights. The craftsmanship in the film is bar none as each character’s design is exquisite, and its production design and Frank Passingham’s cinematography are a marvel.
With its craftsmanship comes one of the year’s best screenplays. Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson craft a script that respectfully tackles life, death, loss, and the afterlife. It’s as close to del Toro’s magnum opus, Pan’s Labyrinth, as any of his screenplays have gotten as it emotionally shattered me. Not only does the film dive into mortality’s different states, but it’s also, at its surface, a story about father and son. Within a few weeks, I’ll be experiencing fatherhood for the first time, so it’s safe to say this screenplay had quite an effect on me.
The voice acting in this film cannot be ignored. Gregory Mann and David Bradley are phenomenal in bringing Geppetto and Pinocchio to life. Every couple of years, the question arises as to when the Academy will honor voice performances, and these two deserve such praise and recognition. Supporting the duo are Ewan McGregor’s Sebastian J. Cricket, Tilda Swinton’s Death & Wood Sprite, Cate Blanchett’s Sprezzatura, Finn Wolfhard’s Candlewick, Christoph Waltz’s The Fox, and Ron Perlman’s Mangiafucco who all shine throughout the film.
In the history of the Academy Awards, there have been three animated films to be nominated for Best Picture, Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story 3, and Up! There is no doubt in my mind that Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio should join the prestigious list. It’s a film that deserves awards recognition across the board and one I will be championing throughout the season. Pinocchio is not just a stop-motion masterpiece. It’s one of this century’s best-animated films.