Thursday, December 8, 2022

'Pinocchio' told in a darker register


   If you appreciate stop-motion animation, you'll no doubt be enthralled by Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, an animated work co-directed by del Toro and Mark Gustafson
   I've read that del Toro has better served the familiar story's source material, a tale first told in 1883 by Carlo Collodi. Never having read the original, I'll take the word of others, notably because del Toro has made a darker version than we might expect, considering the story 's Disneyfied past.
   Note, however, that del Toro includes a lengthy World War II segment, which, if memory serves, never made it into Collodi's 19th-century work. Neither did Benito Mussolini, the pompous dictator who shows up here.
   Ostensibly a musical, the movie is more notable for its often gloomy tones than for any soaring musical work. 
   Ever obsessed with the horrors of fascism and the dread of death, Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth and more recently Nightmare Alley) works his favorite themes into this overlong movie while also acknowledging religion, albeit in somewhat ambiguous fashion. 
   Early on, Pinocchio's dad (David Bradley 's Geppetto) is seen restoring an altarpiece of Jesus on the cross. In this version, Gepetto isn't a Santa's workshop kind of craftsman. 
   The outline of the familiar story remains. When Geppetto's beloved son (Gregory Mann as both the real-life son and Pinocchio) is killed by a bomb, Geppetto drowns his sorrows in alcohol. Once a noble craftsman and loving father, Geppetto becomes an inconsolable drunk. 
   A Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) brings the wooden Pinocchio to life. Although death is very much on the movie's mind, Pinocchio himself has more lives than a cat. He can be killed and brought back to life. In one adventure after another, he tries to win his father's love.
   Ewan McGregor gives voice to Sebastian Cricket, who also serves as the movie's narrator. Christoph Waltz turns up as the voice of Count Volpe, the exploitative entrepreneur who tries to turn Pinocchio into a sideshow attraction. 
   Del Toro has done his best to keep Pinocchio from looking like a lovable puppet, making no attempt to conceal Pinocchio's wooden origins. He's not exactly kindling but he's no cute make-believe boy, either.
   I'm not sure how kids will respond to this version of Pinocchio. I wouldn't want to deny the creativity and care of del Toro's filmmaking but too often I found the movie more impressive than enjoyable. 

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