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Guillermo del Toro’s 'Pinocchio' offers new lessons from a familiar story

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Netflix © 2022
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© 2022 Netflix, Inc.

You may or may not remember, but a few months ago, Disney put out a live-action-slash-CGI remake of their 1940 animated masterpiece Pinocchio, which landed with a wet thud and was never heard from again. Fortunately, we get a do-over of sorts now with another Pinocchio, this time from the director Guillermo del Toro, who’s turned to stop-motion animation to tell his story.

This is not a remake of the Disney film, though it of course bears some resemblance as they’re both at least loosely adapted from the same book. And the first half of this new version follows the broad story outline you already know, albeit with some darker slants on certain details. But eventually, we go to very different places, with Pinocchio facing literal death and falling in with the fascist youth of Mussolini’s Italy, all of which leads to a story of difficult fathers and struggling sons, the weight of our emotional baggage, and the sacrifices we make to help those we love. In this version, becoming a “real” boy comes with a price.

Del Toro is at his best when he’s operating with children in mind—not necessarily making movies for children, but approaching the world from a child’s point of view. This film certainly comes from that perspective, although it doesn’t reach the heights of his earlier movies like The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth. And while it has plenty of darkness and grown-up existential ideas, it is relatively kid friendly. At least it's the only movie of del Toro’s I can remember that doesn’t feature someone’s cheek being impaled by a sharp object.

The director’s famous imagination is certainly on display here, although I admit to hoping for maybe even a little more in that regard, which is an unreasonable request. And I’m not sure this needed songs in it, but I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to make a musical. If Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is not ultimately a transcendent version of the story, it is an admirable one that teaches us different lessons from what we’ve learned before.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is on Netflix.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.