While still managing to capture the strangeness and darkness of the original fairytale, there is also something heartwarming in the way in which it explores grief and family.
I think we can all agree that Carlo Collodi’s story of the little wooden boy is by turns terrifying and bizarre to many of us who perhaps are most familiar with the Disney version – but with his take on it Guillermo Del Toro also makes it more of an accessible story.
In this version of the fable, the story is set against the backdrop of war and the Mussolini era that works brilliantly as Pincocchio navigates a world filled with terror and trying to figure his way around doing what is right and what is easy. But there is also an extra context behind this story, with it beginning with carpenter Geppetto having lost his son Carlo during the Great War and then spends the next 20 years grieving for his loss, until he decides to build a puppet by using the wood of a tree that he cuts down in his grief. While initially Gepetto finds it difficult to accept Pinocchio, urging him to be more like Carlo, the pair soon settle down into a wonderfully tender relationship that draws you into their story. Yes there is plenty of darkness to be found, but there are elements of lightness as well provided by the talking cricket who is appointed by a wood sprite to help take care of Pinocchio’s conscience – who really does represent hope and honesty in the darkest of times.
Throughout every twist and turn, Patrick McHale and Del Toro’s script manages to give the story a new found clarity which other adaptations can struggle to deal with, leaving it feeling muddled. Here, you get a sense of the characters own individual struggles and journey’s to get through the darkness – in particular the scenes at the youth camp are particularly powerful, meanwhile Gepetto’s own struggle with grief is painful to watch. There is nothing preachy here – but it does make you think deeper about the meaning behind the story.
Perhaps in places certain scenes could have been tightened up, particularly towards the end of the film where it seems to run out of a little bit of energy and pace and I’m not entirely sure that the songs add anything to proceedings. However, there is no denying that is a thoroughly absorbing watch, feeling as though on many levels it is paying tribute to the original material it is based on – it has a wonderful folksy feel about it, thanks to the gorgeously textured animation on display – visually, there is so much detail to be appreciated it is an extraordinary achievement from all those involved.
While this film never forgets the original story’s underlying menace, there is also plenty of beautiful touches of humanity that are sprinkled throughout that gives this film a soul and heart that other adaptations have failed to find. Yes there are touches of magic to be found – but this film makes it clear that the magic lies in the power of compassion and humanity that can be found in all kinds of places.
Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafso’s film is a marvellous way to explore this story and has set the bar extremely high for future animated films.
By Emma Clarendon
The film is available to watch on Netflix now.