Eye-popping stop-motion visuals and grade-A voices never lie.
Two versions of “Pinocchio” have been released this year. Robert Zemeckis’ live-action remake of the 1940 Disney animated classic, which was condescending and unnecessary on all accounts, and Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion version, which is miles ahead of that in every way.
It’s labeled as a family film, but it’s more for older kids and teenagers, especially when it takes place in Fascist Italy in the 1930s and when it shows us how Pinocchio can stare death in the face, as he is a “borrowed soul.” He can die, but can resurrect multiple times. Yes, there’s a musical number regarding Pinocchio making a poop joke about the fascist enemies, but I’m not sure they’ll understand those elements.
As an adult, I’m seeing del Toro’s vision as one of the most beautifully animated films in the genre. The attention to detail with this animation looks more wooden than the puppets in Robert Zemeckis’ take did, and they’re crafted with realism and first-rate voice actors.
The Jiminy Cricket right here is named Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), who is an ambitious writer and lives inside Pinocchio, since he just moved in to the new pine tree the old wood carver Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) chopped down. Unlike Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s imitation, McGregor adds character and class to the cricket, and doesn’t sound like he’s trying so hard to be like anyone. He’s a Scottish actor giving him his English voice.
He lost his son Carlo in the First World War, after a bomb blew up the church where the old timer was carving the wooden crucifix. And out of sadness and drunkenness, he carves the puppet to be like his son.
The blue fairy here is a Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton), who appoints the cricket as his conscience, in exchange for one wish. And her sister is Death (also Swinton), who hates her methods on life, and is eager to see Pinocchio every time he dies.
This Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) starts off as an obnoxious brat, who agrees to obey his papa if he gets hot chocolate. But he learns about Carlo, and finds himself in the clutches of the conniving Count Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz). He agrees to perform for half the profits to help his father out, which would also mean he wouldn’t have to fight in WWII. This puppet is too wooden to not see he’s a greedy and abusive SOB in their agreement.
I prefer this puppet master over the recent Stromboli, because of how Waltz specializes in playing villains, and I love how he uses French one-liners.
The supporting voice actors also include Ron Perlman as the main fascist Podesta, who tells Geppetto and Pinocchio to know their places in this world; Finn Wolfhard as Podesta’s son Candlewick, whom he disowns for standing up for the puppet; Cate Blanchett as Volpe’s mistreated monkey Spazzatura, who befriends the puppet; John Turturro as a doctor who called Pinocchio’s corpse “rigid;” and Tim Blake Nelson as a flock of black rabbits, who just play cards while guiding the puppet to Death.
Parts of it lag a bit, but most of del Toro’s take (with help from co-director Mark Gustafson and co-screenwriters Matthew Robbins and Patrick McHale) shows us how Pinocchio’s nose can really grow when it lies, and how it allows this filmmaker to step up his game. I was given a screener of this movie, and I watched it in the comfort of my own home with the lights off, and this is something to behold. And just wait until you really see how Pinocchio and Geppetto escape from this sea monster.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Comes to New York theaters This Friday
Streaming on Netflix December 9
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