Sunday, February 19, 2023

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

Movie Name:
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Starring: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Tom Kenny, Alfie Tempest
Genre: Animation, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
I have to admit I had some mixed feelings going into this feature. Firstly because it seems like a vanity project from someone who doesn't need to validate or prove himself by doing this type of project, secondly because Netflix's quality barometer is all over the place, and thirdly because there are literary properties that should just stop being adapted to the screen, not because they're not wonderfully accomplished works, but because they've been illustrated and staged a million times. On the heels of my last statement, can studios please stop financing films with the following characters: Pinocchio, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Scrooge, Hamlet, and Marylin Monroe. Everyone thinks they have a "fresh" take on these iconic characters, but inevitably the films just feel tired and an unnecessary regurgitation of something that has been done better by another artist. This adaptation of Carlo Collodi's classic work (one of the most published books ever), originally published in the 19th century, though it has some contextual flourishes that render it more unique, still adheres to some of the previous adaptations, including Disney's iconic take which came out in 1940. The tale takes place in Italy in the 1940s during World War II. Geppetto a carpenter, lost his son a while ago also as a result of war. He decides to create a wooden boy/puppet, who is brought to life by a Wood Sprite. This Sprite assigns the puppet both a name, Pinocchio, and a conscience, who comes in the shape of a cricket, by the name of Sebastian. Pinocchio turns out to be quite different from Geppetto's son Carlo, being more stubborn, selfish and clumsy. He eventually catches the attention of the local town's statesman, and is forced to go to school. However on his way to school, Pinocchio is intercepted by the cruel Count Volpe and his assistant Spazzatura, which sends the young puppet on a spiral of adventures.
Guillermo del Toro's work has always primed itself for its distinction, and for the fact that he has a universe where a few recurring themes always appear. Those themes include a fantastical world inhabited with unique, magical and even grotesque creatures, and a supposedly real world, peppered with both loving and cruel humans, who are typically at the mercy of authority figures or political regimes that destroy everything that is good in the world. He likes to capture the humanity and kindness in what appears to be monster like creatures, and the inhuman, cruel and grotesque in the human counterparts. This attempt to marry his universe with the classic Pinocchio narrative has indeed some of his flourishes, namely the magical sprites, and the way he peppers the fascism in Italy during the 1940s into the narrative, but this attempt to marry Carlo Collodi's moral fable with del Toro's somewhat darker perspective, fails to effectively gel. The beautiful animation and character design, can't entirely hide the fact that these two universes are simply at odds with each other, since Collodi's fable is about a journey of discovery, but also of someone who has to learn moral lessons on becoming a selfless and scrupulous boy, something that Disney's version captured in a way that all audiences can embrace (even Steven Spielberg's "A.I." manages to capture the spirit of the fable in a more affecting way). Guillermo del Toro's spin, tries to be political, and retain his point of view on how humans are cruel in the pursuit of power and self interests, but in the process suffocates the journey of discovery Pinocchio embarks on, the same going for the last chapter of the narrative, which del Toro puts a different perspective on. In trying to provide a different take on this narrative, this adaptation strips it from its emotional perspective, and the lesson that Pinocchio ultimately is granted (the grotesque far outweighs the balance of the narrative). As a side note, the stop motion projects from Tim Burton, have been far more interesting, not because they're not tired adaptations of well known material, but because he manages to make them a well balanced vision of his universe, undaunted by trying to please an iconic source material. In the end this version of Pinocchio, is easier to admire than to love.