Guillermo del Toro is one of the best filmmakers working today. His films throughout the years have been some of the most fantastical and imaginative films ever put on the screen with ideas that are one of a kind and couldn't be shown in any other way. Such films include the likes of "Pan's Labyrinth", "Hellboy", and most recently "The Shape of Water". He's also someone who has been a massive supporter of the art of animation and has had a hand in helping and producing several films including notable entries from DreamWorks and "The Book of Life" from 2014. And now, he is directing a brand new animated film with stop motion wizard Mark Gustafson for Netflix that is a take on Carlo Collodi's classic tale of Pinocchio and it's a real treat. "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is a film that I've been waiting for a long time to watch and getting the chance to see it on the big screen was a real treat. This is a beautiful animated work that is sure to stand tall amongst the vast catalog of amazing films from del Toro.
After losing his son Carlo during a bombing raid in the First World War, a heartbroken woodcarver named Gepetto (David Bradley) carves a wooden puppet from a pine tree in a drunken rage hoping to bring his son back. That very night after he finishes his work, a Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) brings the wooden puppet to life while entrusting a cricket named Sebastian (Ewan McGregor) to be his guide. When he awakens, Gepetto is shocked by the life brought to the puppet named Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) who is rather mischievous and somewhat naughty compared to his real-life son. While initially distrusting him, he soon comes to embrace Pinocchio and tries to send him off to school. From there, Pinocchio is taken on a wild journey encountering a puppet performer named Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) and many more. And that's all I'll say without giving the film away.
For a long time, this was a film that Guillermo del Toro wanted to get off the ground. For years, del Toro had tried to shop his take on the story written by him and "Over the Garden Wall" creator, Patrick McHale, to studios though none would bite it and it seemed we might not have been able to get this film. Thankfully, Netflix took on the reigns and helped bring the film to the screen and I am so grateful that the film was able to be made because it truly is a magnificent film from del Toro and his co-director, Mark Gustafson. The way that del Toro does his take on the classic Collodi tale is simply wondrous and unique. This year we've got a handful of new takes on the story, but none were very good which included the lousy live-action remake from Disney and that ridiculous Russian mockbuster that's only notable for having a horrendous voice acting performance from Pauly Shore. This film however embraces the darkness that the original story has, while also transforming it into something very poignant and just simply beautiful to watch. While it does deal with the common morals we expect from the story like learning to be good and not to tell a lie and whatnot, it's the film's other themes that really truly captivated me. It's a film that deals with a lot of interesting themes including the loss of a loved one, the devastation and pointlessness of war, and death itself and it just plays out so wonderfully. It leads to all kinds of emotions that truly deliver right from the start as we see Gepetto face the tragedy of losing his son and dealing with his grief and it truly cuts deep. However, the film isn't always gloom and doom as it has a sense of wondrous charm to it and a few funny moments, particularly with the innocence of the Pinocchio character. I'll talk about it more when I get into my feelings about the characters. The film also ends on a truly beautiful note with a very emotional ending that's one of the best all year for animation. Speaking of the animation, I should say that this film is simply marvelous to look at. Guillermo del Toro has always wanted to tell this story in stop-motion and I couldn't see this story being told in any other way.
There's so much attention to detail put into these puppets that I was simply captivated watching the magic I was witnessing and at times wondering how certain moments were accomplished. It's also a film that has a very vintage look to it that reminded me a bit of a classic Hollywood film, partially in the backgrounds which are beautifully painted and reminded me of the matte paintings you would see in the days before CGI. The only downside I can possibly muster for this animation which is a bit of a nitpick is that some of the digital animation like the water is a bit noticeable and could've been blended with the stop motion just a tad bit better, but that's really the only complaint I can muster. This leads me into talking about the characters who are all so wonderfully written and have excellent performances. Newcomer Gregory Mann really shines so brightly as Pinocchio and the development he faces feels so genuine. The character really is naughty at the beginning of the story, but it's not to the point where he's spoiled as much as genuine innocence and it's what really helped make him so much fun to watch. I also thought that his relationship with Gepetto felt genuine as well as he tries desperately to connect with him. However, you can understand the distance that Gepetto puts on him and it doesn't feel overly done. I did also find Sebastian a fun character as well, though I do think I could've used his presence in the film a bit more. I also found the villain of Volpe very threatening and elevated by Christoph Waltz's excellent role. I should also mention the film has a few songs as well written by Alexandre Desplat and there are fun and quite memorable with my favorite being the one where Pinocchio asks Gepetto what certain objects in the house are.
In all, "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is a lovely treat. Its story is dark yet filled with bold and excellent themes, the animation is gorgeous and very captivating to watch, and the characters are very well-developed and excellently written. It's an animated film that is definitely one I can easily recommend watching, especially if you are a fan of Guillermo del Toro. It's a wonderful tale that I will revisit again and again.