I’m calling it right now: Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio is my Movie of the Year. Setting this classic story in Fascist WW2 Italy was a great way to not only differentiate this work of art from the dud Disney delivered earlier this month, but it also allowed del Toro to delve into some of his usual fascinations with history, politics and, of course, human connection. Its themes are wide-ranging, exploring friendship and what it means to be human, but at its heart (to quote from this amazing teaser) it’s a story about “imperfect fathers and imperfect sons, and about loss, and love.”
We can’t talk about this film without (once again) talking about puppets. To echo a point from my spoiler-free review of Wendell & Wild (2022), there really is something special about stop-motion animation. Knowing just how much time and effort goes into this kind of film, along with what del Toro calls “the expressiveness and material nature of a handmade piece of animation, an artisanal, beautiful exercise in carving, painting, sculpting” helps create a breathtakingly intimate viewing experience. Great attention to each little detail is visible in every frame of this movie. This helps bring us farther into the world del Toro created, a world which, like a lot of his most beloved features, draws from history and politics.
The social fabric of Mussolini’s Italy shapes a great deal of this narrative arc, but the politics don’t take away from the story. It never feels as though del Toro’s lecturing us from behind the camera. Instead, the script by him and Patrick McHale chooses to stay centered around the people of this time and place, and it’s through their interpersonal connections that we explore the sociopolitical implications of what it means to be a man, a worker, a father and a son. These interpersonal connections, which are so important to the film’s effectiveness, were brought to life by some fantastic vocal-acting performances from one of the most secretly-stacked casts I’ve ever seen: Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Cristoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Ron Pearlman, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, and Tim Blake Nelson?! As far as talent goes, this film has it in spades, and uses everyone’s strengths perfectly.
It’s kind of harrowing to know just how hard it was for del Toro to get this film made, once saying no studio would want to finance it—and when Netflix finally took up the helm, the release date was pushed back more than once; but it was worth the wait. This has clearly been a long-time passion project of his, and all of that affection for this story comes through beautifully onscreen. It’s a stunningly beautiful, smart, funny, emotional achievement of cinema, with some fantastic music by notable del Toro collaborator Alexandre Desplat. This may be a Netflix original, which means it will eventually be available to stream (and you should stream it), but I couldn’t be more encouraging of you to also watch this in theaters. Along with the visuals, music and acting lending themselves to the biggest screen possible, it’s incredibly important to support works of art that have something to say, and Guillermo del Toro never fails to provide just that.