Pinocchio review – Guillermo del Toro’s dark, sombre riff on the Disney-sweet fairytale

The wooden puppet-boy turns fascist in a Mussolini-era, fantasy-horror rework of the classic tale

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.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio review – a superbly strange stop-motion animation
The director of the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water has turned the timeless fable into a magical Mussolini-era parable

Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

27, Nov, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
The 88 movies we're most excited about in 2015
Think 2014 was a good year for film? Think again. This year is shaping up to be one of the classics. Here’s what’s on our radar

Guardian Film

06, Jan, 2015 @3:23 PM

Article image
Guillermo del Toro to co-direct new Pinocchio film
The director has championed a new telling of the story, and will work with Mark Gustafson on a stop-motion animation version

Ben Child

10, May, 2012 @4:05 PM

Article image
Nightmare Alley review – Guillermo del Toro’s fairground of fear is a class act
Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett lead us into the sleazy world of carnivals, with gruesomely enjoyable performances and freaky twists

Peter Bradshaw

20, Jan, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Inside Guillermo Del Toro’s sketchbooks

A new book by the Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim director reveals how some of his most memorable monsters came to life

Steve Rose

01, Nov, 2013 @1:30 PM

Article image
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio to Cow: the seven best films to watch on TV this week
The multi Oscar-winning director serves up a wonderfully dark take on the puppet boy who wants to live, while the life of a dairy cow is turned into a moving and beautiful documentary

Simon Wardell

02, Dec, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Nightmare Alley review – Guillermo del Toro’s trickster thriller is light on treats
Bradley Cooper leads a starry cast as an ambitious grifter in a sumptuously made noir that can’t quite grip us tightly enough

Benjamin Lee

06, Dec, 2021 @7:59 PM

Article image
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities review – the horror series that’s perfect pre-Halloween viewing
The Oscar-winning director’s eight part anthology is full of delectably nasty tales brimming with some of the most exciting voices in horror

Leila Latif

25, Oct, 2022 @3:13 PM

Article image
Encanto review – blandly frictionless fairy tale that misses the magic
Walt Disney’s 60th animation boasts songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda and a fine voice cast, but it’s hampered by contradictory messages and a lack of sparkle

Peter Bradshaw

15, Nov, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Aisha and Abhaya review – modern fairytale driven by dark techno
This experiment by film-maker Kibwe Tavares and choreographer Sharon Eyal brims with talent but is ultimately frustrating

Lyndsey Winship

24, Jan, 2020 @11:23 AM