Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio 4K

by Charlie Largent Feb 03, 2024

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray
2022 / 1:85.1
Starring Ewan McGregor, Gregory Mann, and David Bradley
Written by Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale
Photographed by Frank Passingham
Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson

“It’s alive!” cried the alchemist when he saw his creation move for the first time—at least that’s what I’d like to think Guillermo del Toro said when he watched the rushes for Pinocchio.

Released to theaters as Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, the 2022 film was co-directed by del Toro and Mark Gustafson (the animation director for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox). Their movie is many things; a fable, a satire, a broadway musical, a three-ring circus, and a convincing World War II melodrama. In fact it may be too many things, but even with its sprawling narrative the movie has one overriding theme; death, and how all animated figures—flesh and blood or made of wood—will someday stop moving.

Del Toro wrote the screenplay with Patrick McHale which borrows a little from the original novel by Carlo Collodi, and a lot from Disney’s 1940 masterpiece. Collodi’s quirky kid’s book features a talkative cricket who gets squashed in the fourth chapter but del Toro and Disney use the little critter as both the narrator of the picaresque storyline and the fussy guardian of our reckless hero.

Disney’s Jiminy Cricket was a born crooner while del Toro’s cricket, voiced by Ewan McGregor, is a frustrated cabaret singer always ready to break into song (and usually foiled by much greater forces than he). His name is Sebastian J. Cricket and he’s a naturally sophisticated bug; his scales resemble a natty vest and his torso curves into the shape of tuxedo tails.

A vagabond scribe in search of a cubbyhole to complete his memoirs, Sebastian finds a homey workspace within a tall pine tree that was planted by Geppetto in memory of his late son Carlo, a starry-eyed ten-year old who was killed by a stray bomb during the first World War. While Sebastian sets to work on his book, Geppetto, decades after his son’s death, still rages at the sky and drinks to dull his pain. But he’s dulled himself to the outside world too—fascism is on the rise and his little village, along with the rest of Italy, is sinking under Mussolini’s boot.

Though he’s drunk most evenings, Geppetto will not go gently into that good night, and during a particularly spiteful bender he chops down Sebastian’s treehouse with a boozy plan to rebuild his dead son from scratch. A violent storm comes out of nowhere to rattle Geppetto’s workshop—seemingly a heavenly rebuke to the old man’s desperate efforts. Clearly, like the foolhardy parents of The Monkey’s Paw, Geppetto is tempting fate.

Cinematographer Frank Passingham’s lighting is reminiscent of a horror film, giving Geppetto the look of an especially mad scientist, while del Toro stages the action in a frenzied montage of flying splinters and Fritz Langian shadows. And then Geppetto celebrates his work by passing out. When he wakes he’s face to face with a knobby replicant of a small boy, a nightmare version of Carlo. The little monster is “alive” alright, and it wasn’t the lightning, but the work of a wood sprite called The Blue Fairy.

The manikin is named Pinocchio and he’s a real problem child, he talks a mile a minute and sings too, introducing himself with a song called “Everything is New to Me.” Del Toro, Alexandre Desplat, and Roeban Katz collaborated on the inventive lyrics but Desplat’s music feels oddly generic at times—at least it’s a melodic respite from del Toro’s graveyard obsessions, though it’s an understandable fixation when the town—the world—is overrun by fascists, in particular a lantern-jawed horror called the “podestà” who, when not threatening Pinocchio with military camp, is raising his own boy Candlewick to be a perfect little Nazi.

But Pinocchio is wising up, rather than subjecting himself to the podestá’s indoctrination, he runs off to a circus owned by a sideshow dandy named Count Volpe. The impresario salivates at the prospect of a stringless dummy as his star attraction but unfortunately Pinocchio is promptly killed, run over by the podestá’s truck. It’s Pinocchio’s first introduction to his own afterlife, a metaphysical dimension attended by a trio of poker-playing zombie-rabbits and their boss, a poker-faced sphinx named Death.

Death plays her cards close to the vest but she is willing to share a secret with Pinocchio. As the result of his supernatural birth, he has a permanent get-out-of-jail card, and after each fatal incident he’s allowed to return to the land of the living—as long as he remains a puppet—once he agrees to become a “real” boy, death awaits him like any other mortal. Armed with that two-edged sword, Pinocchio goes forth like a spindly Jason, ready to battle monsters of all shapes and sizes including whales, fascists, and his most formidable adversary, himself.

It’s tempting to call Pinocchio the most beautiful animated film in history, but opinions are the least interesting part of film reviews, and the opinion-giver can change their mind the very next day. But one thing seems fairly set in stone, the mix of polished craftsmanship and high art on display in Pinocchio is astonishing. Whatever concerns caused by its occasionally too-stuffed storyline are vanquished by the subtle power of the animation itself. Like ballet masters, del Toro and Gustafson focus their attentions on the artistry of movement; how an old man’s hand can go slack in defeat, or the wary shrug of a merciless killer, or a puppet’s little dance step—it’s the essence of poetry in motion and so is Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.

Criterion has released a special Blu ray edition of del Toro and Gustafson’s film, and chief among the attractions is a dazzling 4K transfer that is near 3D in its appearance (the regular Blu ray is pretty darn dazzling too.)

The extras include Handcarved Cinema, an updated documentary revised especially for this edition featuring del Toro and Gustafson along with the voice actors: Ron Perlman, as the podestà, Christoph Waltz who plays Volpe, Cate Blanchett, as Volpe’s poor little assistant Spazzatura, Tilda Swinton, who gives voice to both Death and The Blue Fairy, and David Bradley and Gregory Mann who speak (and sing) for Geppetto and Pinocchio.

Directing Stop-Motion features a conversation between del Toro and Gustafson, and there’s a spirited interview with del Toro conducted by film critic Farran Smith Nehme. There’s also a panel discussion conducted by James Cameron featuring del Toro, Gustafson, production designer Guy Davis, Desplat, and sound designer Scott Martin Gershin.

Inside the keepcase are essays by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and author Cornelia Funke.

The beautiful cover art is by James Jean. The full rundown of extras can be found here on the Criterion site.

On February 1, 2024, Mark Gustafson passed away. Del Toro paid tribute to his late colleague describing him as “A legend and a friend that inspired and gave hope to all around him.”

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Chas Speed

I loved this and the Nightmare Alley remake too

Jenny Agutter fan

My favorite scene was when Pinocchio was supposed to entertain Mussolini and instead used the opportunity to associate Il Duce with excrement.

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