PG, but I almost want to say that this movie might not be for kids. If the bare-bones, family-friendly Disney version of Pinocchio tends to terrify children, I can't stress to you enough how traumatizing this version is. This feels like it is set in the same world as Pan's Labyrinth, especially del Toro's motifs of war throughout. It's scary and messed up. People straight up die horrible deaths here.
DIRECTORS: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Why have I seen more versions of Pinocchio in the past few years than I ever thought that I would? Is Pinocchio somehow reflecting our current culture? Is it a conflagration of ideas? Is the universe telling us something or is it artists inspiring each other? Or maybe it's all a coincidence that we keep getting Pinocchio as the story to talk about. Regardless, we keep getting the message that Pinocchio was a jerk of a kid but ultimately deserved to become a real boy.
I tell my students to write outlines before writing, which is advice I tend to ignore with this blog. I really should name this thing "Stream of Consciousness Movies" because so little thought is put into the organization of my arguements. I really hope to remember to talk about the role of parenting later in this blog because I'm going to talk about the title of this movie before anything else. I'm not saying Pinocchio. I have no thoughts about the appropriateness of the title Pinocchio. I'm talking about how this movie is named Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. First, I feel bad for the co-director, who seems to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, especially when it comes to the animation element of this. But I can see why this movie is named after del Toro My goodness, he's unpacking a lot of his oeuvre in front of us. The odd thing that I have to criticize myself for is the fact that I'll lambaste Tim Burton for having one gimmick, yet sit in awe of most of the things that Guillermo del Toro does visually. But this is just Pan's Labyrinth 2, right? I mean, everything about this is Pan's Labyrinth. Like, every element looks like it could be an animated sequel set in the world of Pan's Labyrinth. I mean, if I'm going to spell it out (which is not a bad thing!), it's a children's story set against the backdrop of real world evil: war.
I really need to learn more about del Toro as a person. I know he's from Mexico and lived in Spain for a while. (When I say that I "know" that, it's in the back of my brain.) I know his dad got kidnapped and things got scary for a while. But what is del Toro's interest with children having to deal with war? Visually, it's striking. And this might be the point where I transition into my point about parenting. (You know, if I was an expert blogger, this segue would be seemless, but you would leave feeling special. Instead, welcome to this ham-handed crap.) The war, besides being this haunting spectre over the events of a story that have been told before, is something for Geppetto to rage against. It's something fundamentally evil, especially from an Italian perspective. It was a sense of nationalism that forgot what Italian culture was supposed to be about. (How should you read this section? From a very weary American who is aware that America is just sprinting in that direction.) But Geppetto is a victim who embraces his victimhood. It's really bizarre. While most versions of Pinocchio are morality plays about being a naughty little boy, warning real life children to not act like Pinocchio.
Instead, this is a morality play for parents. I'm going to say that I love this because I am not a naughty little boy. I'm a parent who probably screws up his kid because of unreasonable expectations. It's not like we're supposed to hate Geppetto. Geppetto reacts fairly naturally. He had Carlo, a kid who was way too perfect. When we just had our first daughter, we were convinced that we were the best parents who had ever existed. She was so good. She was so talented. But then, the more children we had, the more problems we started running into. Even from the oldest. If Carlo and Pinocchio had grown up together, Carlo would start massively misbehaving. But we sympathize with Geppetto. He is dealing with something supernatural. There's almost a monkey's paw element to Pinocchio coming to life. The allegory is screaming, "Every birth is miraculous and cannot fit in a box. Every parent is surprised by what their child is."
The idea of Geppetto as the focus of the story actually alters the Pinocchio story quite a bit. Again, this coming from a guy who has never read the OG Pinocchio, it was always something that was preachy for kids. After all, the OG Pinocchio slaughters Jimminy Cricket in the first minutes of meeting him. But I like the idea that Sebastian Cricket is someone who can nudge Pinocchio in subtle ways. He can never make Pinocchio do what is right, but he can condemn the heck out of Geppetto for finding Pinocchio to be a burden. I do think that del Toro goes a bit far, placing the onus on the parents at times. Like, the Nazi full on condemns Geppetto for Pinocchio not being perfect. We should always disagree with the Nazi, but I do agree that Pinocchio is perhaps a bit too rebellious for his britches. Like, cool it a little on the not-listening bit. But I do like the notion that Geppetto should understand that Pinocchio is minutes old and that he can't have a full grasp of the complex morality of society. Like, if you were born eight-years-old, you'd have eight-year-old needs and wants that have nothing to do with lofty philosophical debates.
But I really like what the message in the movie is. Like, I really like it. I was ready to hate the end of the movie because this version of Pinocchio is a bit unfair as a concept. In other adaptations of Pinocchio, Geppetto is just a lonely old man who has never had children. While I really liked the notion that Geppetto had a kid before, making him a fallible character when Pinocchio comes around, it does seem like it is messing with the rights and wrongs of the universe. In my head, he was going to get Carlo back, considering that Pinocchio and Carlo are both voiced by the same actor. Or, alternatively, Pinocchio would learn his lesson and become a better behaved child that would stop giving his father grief. Nope, and that's where I give points. Sure, I'm not sure if I'm a fan of Pinocchio getting an extra life because that's also false hope for parents who have lost children. But I do like the idea that Pinocchio's "real boy" status isn't one of flesh and blood like Carlo. His real boy status is one of mortality. It all ties together! (I regret writing that, but I also stand by it?) Pinocchio doesn't have to become a different person because society accepts that different person. If he became a physical flesh child (gross), it would be symbolic that he wasn't who he was born to be: a wooden boy. Yeah, it's dark and very del Toro-y that he will live an abnormally long life, like the Face of Boe. But I kind of like it too.
There are so many moments that I really like. But there are two that hold this movie back for me. The first one is just criticism of quality. This movie absolutely shouldn't have been a musical. The music isn't very good and often, it's incomplete. I'm sure it comes down to the fact that to animate a song-and-dance number with stop motion is unnecessarily challenging. But, man, those songs are bad. It would be an understatement to say that they aren't catchy or something. They honestly don't even feel like songs. It's like someone took lines of text from the book and tried to force them into a short song structure. And Pinocchio doesn't need to be a musical...at all. Like, nothing is forcing Pinocchio into a being a musical.
The second complaint is a lost opportunity. To get this rad moment where Pinocchio sacrifices his life for his father, he has to agree to become mortal. The whole infinite deaths element of the movie is almost wasted for the sake of getting to this end. The film is about war. The fascists have conscripted the immortal Pinocchio into war. For those who haven't seen the movie, I have to let you know the cost of Pinocchio's immortality. The rules are, that every time Pinocchio dies, it takes him a little longer to come back. That's the punishment. Look at the opportunity there. Pinocchio has been forced by the fascists to become this immortal soldier. Imagine waking up each time and find that the war is still going on, only to die moments later. That opportunity is there. Because he was so foolish about his desire to become a soldier, he never sees his dad again. Or maybe he sees him dying from extreme old age. Yeah, it misses the original narrative. But if you have these strong motifs running through a movie, you have to use both of them. It's so weird that it doesn't work at all. It is just rushed through and Pinocchio actually escapes the war pretty quickly.
So it's a great movie with flaws. I don't know why we keep coming back to the Pinocchio well though. It's a fine story, but I'm a bit Pinocchio'd out, if I'm honest. It's a movie that would have crushed had I not just seen a movie about Pinocchio last year. Del Toro crushes it, with the exception of a few elements.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.