• Lively casting/voice performances
  • Beautiful direction and cinematography
  • Heartfelt storytelling
  • A bit dark for young ages
  • Unnecessary musical numbers

Terrific production design, heartfelt writing and visionary direction are par for the course in Guillermo del Toro’s well-crafted “Pinocchio”.


Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro reinvents the classic story of a wooden puppet brought to life in this stunning stop-motion musical tale.

Guillermo del Toro has a knack for exploring dark subjects with a tender, emotional hand. “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is no different. While the original story is a children’s fantasy novel, Del Toro approaches the beloved IP as a heartwarming (and heartbreaking) story of a bond between father and son. Set in fascist Italy, the stop-motion animated picture begins with the terrific narration of Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced perfectly by Ewan McGregor) who speaks of how carpenter Master Geppetto (David Bradley, good) dealt with unimaginable tragedy in losing his only born son Carlo (voiced by Gregory Mann, who also voices the eponymous character). It’s a heartbreaking prologue complemented by Alexandre Desplat’s terrific emotional score. Cricket, who has set up home in a tree determined to write his life story, pops his head out one day and sees Geppetto going mad, tearing down the tree Cricket has inhabited. Geppetto takes the wood and out of desperation coupled with sadness, creates Pinocchio, a wooden replica of his forgotten son (“when one life is lost, another must grow,” Geppetto says). However, Pinocchio doesn’t become “Pinocchio” until fairy Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton, a dreamy performance) makes a deal with Cricket, asking him to become a conscience and guide for the living, breathing Pinocchio (turning him into a living being out of sympathy for Geppetto) and in return, she will grant Cricket any wish he desires.

Cricket takes the deal and out comes Pinocchio, an energetic, prancing wooden boy that is excited about life and ready to take on all of life’s pleasures as well as its vices. Newcomer Gregory Mann steals the show as the eponymous character, bringing a lot of energy and strong emotion to the wooden boy’s dialogue. A lively voice is needed in a film such as this as it probably wouldn’t survive without it. As Pinocchio learns what it is like to be a real boy, we come across great supporting characters along the way. Christoph Waltz voices the humorously pathetic antagonist Count Volpe, an ambitious circus leader that is desperately looking for his next big act. He sees many dollars and opportunity in Pinocchio and wants to use him as much as he can, hoping to one day play in front of Benito Mussolini. On the other part of the antagonist spectrum, we have Podestà (gruffly voiced by Del Toro-favorite Ron Pearlman), a fascist official determined to turn Pinocchio, a wooden boy who can’t “die,” into the best soldier Italy has ever seen. Let’s call him Captain Vidal-lite. There’s also Podestà’s son Candlewick (aptly voiced by Finn Wolfhard) who repeatedly clashes with Pinocchio out of childish rivalry but has a deeper internal battle of becoming the man his father wants him to be and becoming the man he should be. Another solid character to note here is Death itself (also voiced by Tilda Swinton), a darkly beautiful creature who shares meaningful scenes with Pinocchio in the afterlife, teaching him lessons about living, the meaning of it and how to actually be a real boy.

In terms of writing and adapting, there is much to like in del Toro and Patrick McHale’s (of “Over the Garden Wall” fame) script. Pinocchio is thrown through the emotional ringer as he embarks on his odyssey of what it means to be real…and tell the truth. The dialogue between Cricket and Pinocchio (and Geppetto) are humorous and lively, bringing character to the narrator/distinguished specimen. The bond of father and son is deeply delved into with Pinocchio and Geppetto as both characters desire the eponymous character to be more than what he is. Geppetto strongly wants Pinocchio to serve as a reincarnation of his deceased son while Pinocchio himself wants nothing more than to be flesh and bone. Both are unattainable dreams and are played to great heartbreaking effect. There is one pointless sequence towards the climax, in which Pinocchio and other young boys are put through grueling training to become young fascist soldiers. The sequence, ending in a tense capture the flag battle, is beautiful to look at but is distracting from the plot as it takes away from the strongest element of this film, the relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto.

Frank Passingham’s cinematography coupled with Guy Davis and Curt Enderle’s production design is nothing short of a gorgeous cinematic experience. From the creation of Pinocchio himself to the contrasting designs of Wood Sprite and Death, the craft that is put into this dark rendition is painstakingly top-notch. Emotion is a palpable image as sadness, happiness and doubt are well-painted on every character’s face on every crucial moment. However…the music. The music is not needed – not the score, mind you, that’s great. I’m referring to the fact that this film is also a musical. The musical numbers here are not bad perse but they just serve as extra flair on a film that doesn’t need it. The moralistic story of Pinocchio does not need dance numbers or whimsical solos. It needs strong direction, great writing and a lively cast and this film already has that in spades.

Closing Thoughts
Del Toro’s “Pinocchio” isn’t exactly the best children story’s adaptation out there, but it may be the best one of 2022. There is heart and emotion weaved into this dark tale of humanity and sacrifice, in which the director’s best work is apropos. With the exception of unnecessary musical numbers, Pinocchio’s cinematic flair is livened by its great performances, beautiful direction and heartfelt writing. The film paints a story that can be enjoyed by (almost) all ages from its heartbreaking start to its heartwarming ending.


Watch the film here!

Blak Cinephile
Blak Cinephile is a cinephile who both loves film and loves to write/talk about it. He has a genuine respect for the art of cinema and has always strived to find the line between insightful subjectivity and observant objectivity while constructing his reviews. He believes a deeper understanding (and a deeper love) of cinema is borne through criticism.

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