Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio Review: When magic meets reality

Adapted and retold many times, Pinocchio’s fairytale written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 takes again a new roupage, this time guided by mexican director Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson. With a robust, complex, heartfelt and mature story, the movie, fully filmed in stop-motion, masterfully mixes elements of fantasy and deep pieces of reality, still finding a common ground for its younger and older audience.

Unlike other adaptations, our story doesn’t begin with Pinocchio’s tale. At first, we glance at the background of Gepetto (David Bradley) and his other son: Carlo (Gregory Mann). It all begins in Italy, during Great War I, a time in which the darkness of humanity merge with the ingenuity of told narrative, where the sweet relation between the perfect father and son ends up tragically torn away, as Carlo sadly passes away during a bombing in their town,

Just one of the picture’s many truthful and reflective moments, the cruelty of reality hits like a punch in the stomach and breaks the fragile image of perfection, making the messages and ideas conveyed through the film even more personal and real.

After a while, mourning takes a more deep control over the craftsman and Italy’s obscure state gets worse as Mussolini and the fascist ideas take over. However, through the eyes of our trusted storyteller Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor – living in a pine tree near where Carlo was buried), the apparent end of the pit ends up in new turns. 

In a Mary Shelley inspired moment, a drunk Gepetto takes down the pine tree he planted for his son and, drowned by sorrow, builds his own little boy, Pinocchio. Like doctor Frankenstein, the wooden puppet is carefully carved through the wood, giving space for the design to shine. The little imperfections, the lack of clothing, the texture of the child and several other details enhance the perception the viewer has on Pinocchio.

Yet, it’s just when Gepetto’s tale of sadness, the puppet creation and Sebastian‘s presence interlock that magic gets ahead in the game.

Gepetto making Pinocchio. Source: Netflix

Tilda Swinton gives voice to two spiritual beings, a blue forest spirit, similar to an angel, responsible for giving the little boy life and delegating the task of keeping him on the right path to the cricket and, later in the story, to death, another of Pinocchio’s companions. The exploitation of such films by Del Toro deepens the depth of discussion and opens the doors to questions about afterlife and mortality.

Another important aspect of such a scene, thoroughly analyzed during the movie is the role of Sebastian J. Cricket, a want-to-be writer, in Pinocchio’s path. Apart from the original story, the cricket accepts the offer with one condition, the promise of a wish, and a statement that perfectly reflects one of the messages the film tries to convey: the acceptance of our own limitations and imperfections.

“I’ll try my best and that’s the best anyone can do”

Sebastian J. Cricket

The alive wooden boy has the soul of a child, both in the good and bad ways. He is ingenuous, innocent, energetic and reckless, and as much he wants to please his “new” father, he wants to discover and explore all sorts of things, causing some fear, fascination, and displeasure from the town, the town’ priest, Podesta (Ron Perlman – a government official) and even Gepetto himself.

The village and the artisan want Pinocchio to fit their rules and molds, Gepetto specifically expecting to receive a new version of Carlos, causing the boy to momentarily try to change his essence. Once more, the picture holds high standards for ideas of acceptance of flaws and discussions of what’s your true self.

Permeated by ideas of what it means to be humans, the imperfection and beauty of existence gives life to the movie. The film’s music, though not the catchiest, play a major role in determining the scene’s “auras”. The filmmakers also wander through del Toro’s classics, such as loveable little monsters creations, wars and the evilness in humans.

The master-mentee duo is a nice example of certain aspect. The relationship between the circus baboon, Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), and his cruel master, Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), as well as Podesta and his son Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard) are a good sample.

 On the spiritual side of the story, ephemerality and grief are also important topics that guide the characters’ decisions towards the end. With a good amount of the original material, making the fairytale easy to identify, del Toro and Gustafson’s take on the narrative makes you feel it was originally written that way, it is like the filmmakers understand and share the secrets of the story no one has told before. 

Palatable enough for kids and detailed enough for adults, Pinocchio is an epitome of del Toro’s storytelling features, with few or no imbalance (a good head-start for the mexican director beginners).

Pinocchio ‘s making of (del Toro by the window). Source: MoMA

A great movie, exalating the potential of time and power of magic, Pinocchio is enough to warm those cold hearts in the holiday season.


Article by Mariana Sousa


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