Where I Watched It: Netflix
English Audio Description Provided By: International Digital center
There are still some things that I know are hard to translate to a blind audience, and i have yet to see a way of truly being able to explain why something like stop motion animation is so captivating to someone who has never seen stop motion animation. To them, animation is animation, or the story is the story. Often, a lot of the intricate details that go into these tireless stop motion features end up not being a part of anything we are able to experience, but instead the story is thrust front and center. Sometimes, that doesn’t always work in a films favor. For visual storytellers like Guillermo Del Toro, who think about the entire look and feel of their projects, and have a very distinct style, to have that stripped away into a basic story sometimes isn’t really fair for the amount of work that went into the project to make it an immersive and once in a lifetime experience. I fully believe Del Toro poured his heart into this, and no matter how proper the audio description is, I’m not sure it will ever be able to fully translate the experience of being able to enjoy the totality of a Guillermo Del Toro work, or a stop motion feature.
All of that being said, because del Toro is a risk taker, he still, at the very core of this work, has found something truly special. And for him to do it for such an overdone story like Carlotti’s Pinocchio, a movie that’s already been adapted twice this year (Yes, there was another version where Pauly Shore voiced the puppet), it almost makes it impossible to get excited, or to get anyone else excited for the movie. Sure, Del Toro has fans. his fans will watch his films no matter what. But for a general audience who are a little tired of this story, how do you convince them that this is the best case scenario, and that the world actually needed this adaptation?
How do you let people know that this version, as shocking as it may seem, is better than Walt Disney’s far more famous animated entry?
When you are adapting one of these works that has been done to death, like Pinocchio, or Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard Of Oz, A Christmas Carol, or whatever else, the team behind the film should always be asking themselves why are they making this film? What is it about their effort that needs to happen? Why does the world need one more Peter Pan? This has led to some really creative and innovative takes on works, like Steven Spielberg exploring a grown up Peter in hook, Gregory Maguire devoting an entire book to writing the story from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of The West, and most recently, Will Ferrell’s musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol that puts a corporate spin on the Dickens classic.
Here, Del Toro does something that the other filmmakers have strayed away from, because it’s not a happy story arc. He introduces us to Carlo, the son of Gepetto. In doing this, investing in this ill fated character, we get to see this person who has long fueled these puppet reincarnations. We actually meet the boy that inspired a man to create a puppet in his likeness, and understand the goodness of Carlo, and how tragically his life was cut short. Carlo is devoted to his father, and accompanies his woodworking papa on the job.
Del Toro understood what every other version of Pinocchio did not, that Carlo was this intangible thing that was connecting the entire film without ever being referenced in it. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to watch Carlo’s inevitable death, and Gepetto’s grieving, but it’s such a game changer for this story, as we actually know who to compare Pinocchio to. And in this version, when Pinocchio is brought to life, he’s so completely a clean slate, as if a piece of furniture just started talking. He knows nothing, has no common sense, and must have things constantly explained to him. But lacking history with Gepetto, and also reasoning, he ends up relying heavily on a little cricket that lives inside him to explain the world to him. However, Pinocchio may have been created in the image of Carlo, but we know immediately he is a far cry from him.
That sets Pinocchio on his journey, which Del Toro has decided to make even more unique by setting it directly in the middle of the fascist regime of Mussolini, including a plot point that sees Pinocchio being drafted to fight in the war. But through these experiences, these choices he has to make, Pinocchio grows. And Gepetto, desperate to not be alone, tries to keep his little wooden placeholder safe.
It’s these choices that make Pinocchio’s journey in Del Toro’s version seem so different, so realistic, and so incredibly human. By the end of the film, in the final act, Pinocchio isn’t just sitting around wishing to be a real boy, but rather he is dealing with the consequences of the decisions he’s made up until this point, finally having the ability to understand the weight of his choices. It sets up for a familiar third act that also is unexpectedly different, with Pinocchio having to make a choice Disney never had him make, that lands the emotional payoff the whole film has been working toward.
All of this, accompanied by some terrific voice acting from David Bradley as Gepetto, and a fresh set of music that fits this version, and not the pleasure island version of Pinocchio, round out what should now be the definitive version. Plus, the whimsical and haunting score from Alexandre desplat cannot be ignored. This film will not be for everyone. Little kids might not find the same level of comfort in this version that they do in the happy go lucky Disney version, or that one time Jonathan Taylor Thomas played the puppet. But this version is far more rewarding for the adults, who can understand teh complex human emotions at work here, and fully appreciate what Del Toro has done. It’s a tribute to the boy we never knew, and the other versions we don’t like to talk about. It comes full circle, and it does so because Del Toro knew that by investing in Carlo, he was enriching the whole film. It’s the same decision that Pete Docter made when directing and telling the story of U. And that was an original story. We had no idea who those little kids were at the beginning, or why they were important. But, we soon learned that the bond shared between Carl and Ellie was one for the ages, and in one of the most heartbreaking scenes to ever open a Disney film, we watched Ellie disappear. But that was necessary, as Ellie never leaves the film. She’s in every single frame, as her spirit, and her connection is such a huge part of Up, and why the movie is so emotionally resonant. This is what Del Toro understands about Pinocchio. Sure, he’s going to put you on an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s so vital to exploring this unique and now best version of this story.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio isn’t just the best animated feature of the year, but it is one of the best movies of the year, and certain to finish in my top ten list. If you prefer your version of Pinocchio to be light and cheerful, you’ve already had that version. But haven’t you ever wondered what came before?
Final Grade: A