Certain directors have tropes, or cliches. For Spielberg you can expect absent dads (looking forward to The Fablemans), Tim Burton has skeletons and weird trees, but with Guillermo del Toro it’s a whole hit list: father figures, catholicism, fascism, bodily functions, insects, Ron Perlman. It’s a full house in his Netflix backed stop-motion latest.
Telling the classic fable of the boy who wished he was real, del Toro over the story to fascist Italy. Geppetto (David Bradley) still heart broken after the death of his son Carlo in the war builds a wooden boy, given life and the soul of Carlo, Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) becomes embroiled in an adventure with a Cricket called Sebastian (Ewan McGregor) and the rising fascism of Benito Mussolini.
Guillermo del Toro has always loved insects, his films are filled with strange insect like creations, from the broach in Cronos, to the Judas breed in Mimic, through to the fairies in Pan’s Labyrinth. Here his version of the talking Cricket, Sebastian, appears to be the grandfather of those critters from Mimic.
There’s a streak of jet black humour in his film, not least when Pinocchio sings a toilet humour laced ode to Mussolini, showing his hatred of fascism and his love of poo jokes. The musical numbers by and large are wonderfully realised, all playing on a sense of the melancholy that runs through the film.
At it’s heart the film is about loss and love, and the scenes of Geppetto voiced by a never more avuncular or paternal David Bradley and his son Carlo (also Gregory Mann) are beautifully animated. The ongoing look at death and it’s pain it illustrated by the beauty of both the woodland sprite and the spectre of death.
How children will react is yet to be seen but the mix of humour and moments of horror work very well. It’s comments of exploitation and on the hardships of war are fantastic, working the same way the mix of the Spanish Civil War underlined the horror of Pan’s Labyrinth, or how Nazism underlined Hellboy. Here the rise of Mussolini’s fascism underlines the way people see children as expendable.
The voice cast are all perfectly cast – McGregor, Bradley, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Burn Gorman, Tim Blake Nelson, Tilda Swinton, John Turturro and Christoph Waltz are all perfectly pitched to enter this stylised world created.
It’s such a beautiful animation that it’s hard to fault a single moment, instead soak in the richly crafted stop motion animation and savour every whimsical, melancholic second. A treat for all ages.
And that’s no lie.