Guillermo del Toro has contrived a new stop-motion-type animated account of Pinocchio in this austere and dark version of the Carlo Collodi fairytale. Such a thing was badly needed as a corrective to Robert Zemeckis’s disastrous, sickly and sentimental live-action Pinocchio, which also came out this year, featuring Tom Hanks giving a non-vintage performance as Geppetto, the whiskery toymaker.
Del Toro’s version amplifies the psychological nightmare implicit in the story of a sad, childless craftsman in Italy who, in the agonies of grief, creates a puppet that becomes a real boy. When Geppetto’s son dies in an air raid at the end of the first world war, young Pinocchio is the tragic substitute, brought to life by occult forces that are far from Walt Disney sweetness; he is dragooned first into a travelling circus and then finally into the young fascisti.
This Pinocchio riffs on the idea of innocence and guilt in the age of Mussolini: almost like a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and Oskar in Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum. David Bradley voices the old man, Geppetto; Gregory Mann is Pinocchio, Ron Perlman is the fascist Podesta, Christoph Waltz is the carnival master Count Volpe and Ewan McGregor is the quirky conscience-keeper Sebastian J Cricket.
The movie is potent and sombre, though I couldn’t help thinking that the story of a wooden puppet-boy in this stop-motion world where everyone looks like a wooden puppet is somehow extraneous. For me, this version, with its carefully packaged fantasy-horror element, doesn’t have the anarchy and inexplicability of Roberto Benigni/Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio from two years ago. But it certainly has its moments of poignancy and sadness and McGregor’s droll tones as the longsuffering cricket provide some grace notes of fun.
• Pinocchio is in cinemas from 25 November and on 9 December on Netflix.