Pinocchio, the character, was created by Carlo Lorenzini (Carlo Collodi) and introduced in the book “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” which was published in serial form beginning in 1881 and turned into a children’s book two years later. To say that this character is part of the world’s cherished children stories is stating the obvious—which is curious and speaks volumes about the human experience. Allow me to explain.
In the story, the woodcutter Geppetto creates a marionette from an enchanted piece of wood. He never intended to create a “boy”—that was a mistake because of magic. Instead, what he made was an upset and disobedient puppet who wants to be human. Pinocchio runs away, gets jailed and almost hanged, is turned into a donkey (and almost gets skinned), and then kills a talking cricket with a hammer. This is literary Pinocchio.
In the film, Pinocchio is unfinished, has nails and twigs sticking out of him, moves strangely, and is impulsive. And just like a real boy, he challenges the world around him including religion, asking a wooden Christ a local question—a rather big question. Then he crosses paths with Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), a circus ringmaster, and the Podestà (Ron Perlman), a Fascist official, who both want the talking puppet to serve their agendas.
This isn’t exactly a kids’ movie. It’s made, after all, by Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”). Elements of satire paint this dark fairytale and there are also moments of sweet sentimentality. And there’s enough action, especially between Pinocchio and Count Volpe’s monkey puppeteer Sprezzatura (Cate Blanchett), to keep most audiences invested in the outcome of the rivalry, but something is missing.
The craftsmanship is stunning; the film is produced by ShadowMachine in studios in the U.S., U.K. and Mexico, delivering rich moments where you suspend your belief system, acknowledging for a time that these characters are real.
The screen is always filled with stunning color and detail. And for the stop-motion community and those who love this art form, this is the high bar to reach.
But del Toro didn’t let the artistry overwhelm the story he was trying to tell. He won there. But it’s a dark story, so go in…warned.