Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a Radical Reimagining, And An Extraordinary Experience

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a gnarly and spiritual fairy tale about what makes life beautiful

From the opening frames of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, it’s obvious this is a del Toro film — and not just because of the possessive title. He’s a filmmaker with a visual signature as strong as Tim Burton or Wes Anderson, albeit one that hasn’t hardened so formally, and still has the ability to adapt and to surprise.

With Pinocchio, del Toro turns, as both those directors have, to stop-motion animation, which allows him to retain the texture of his live-action work while controlling the look of every single element in the frame.

Sebastian J. Cricket stands on a twig in the foreground, behind him, bathed in sunset orange, is a pine tree and a small wooden grave marker

But the film’s success is about more than looks. What’s surprising about Pinocchio is how personal to del Toro it feels, despite him sharing director credit with Mark Gustafson, despite its shoot overlapping with that of Nightmare Alley, despite the work of its creation being done by teams of artisans spread across three continents.

This Netflix animated film might be the most del Toro movie since Pan’s Labyrinth; it’s certainly one of the best since then, and as distinctive as any of his English-language work.

What it isn’t is anything like the timeless 1940 Walt Disney film, or its recent, lifeless remake, or either of the two Roberto Benigni-starring, live-action Italian takes, or any of the dozens of other attempts to adapt Carlo Collodi’s 1883 book.

Extraordinarily, it is the first to be done in stop-motion, and thus the first in which Pinocchio, the wooden puppet boy who comes to life, is played by an actual puppet. Beyond this, del Toro (who co-wrote the script, as well as the lyrics for a handful of songs) takes a few key passages and themes from Collodi, discards even more than Disney did, and moves the story to the mid-20th century.

He expands it to take in many of his own key motifs, especially from the horrific fairy tales The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth: Europe between the wars, the specter of Fascism, the terror of childhood, the land of the dead, and the meeting point of the monstrous, the human, and the sublime.

In this telling, Geppetto the humble woodcarver (David Bradley) has a beloved human son, Carlo, who dies in a World War I bombing.

Years later, he creates Pinocchio (Gregory Mann), not out of whimsy, but in a quite wild and frightening bout of drunken grief with more than a hint of Frankenstein to it.

Pinocchio is hewn from a pine tree grown from a cone that Carlo had collected, and where Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor), a pompous insect raconteur, had set up home.

Cricket witnesses an austere, angelic Wood Sprite (played by Tilda Swinton, who else) bring Pinocchio to life. But he still crawls back into his home in the wooden boy’s heart to live.

This Pinocchio is quizzical, rash, and impulsive — a far cry from the dutiful Carlo. Hours after coming to life, he is wheeling around Geppetto’s workshop in a crazed whirligig, his spindly limbs jerking and spinning, smashing everything he touches. It’s delightful and also slightly threatening. Pinocchio is raw and unfinished, with nails and twigs still sticking out of him, ungainly movements, and chaotic behavior. But unlike most tellers of this tale, del Toro has no interest in smoothing these imperfections away.


Priyanka Sharma

Priyanka Sharma is the content editor at with over 3 years of experience in journalism, Priyanka delivers fresh and accurate news on the cannabis industry to her readers. Her versatility as a writer and editor is showcased in her work. When she's not busy writing and editing, Priyanka can be found exploring new travel destinations and indulging in her love for food.

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