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Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio


Stars: Voices: Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Christoph Waltz, Ron Perlman, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, Finn Wolfhard, Burn Gorman, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Kenny, John Turturro

Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson

There are some glorious things about del Toro's dark, revisionist version of the famous fairy-tale about the wooden puppet who comes to life, although you're nagged throughout by trying to estimate its intended audience, if indeed there is one. Young adults perhaps, as the certificate would indicate, since it certainly is unsuitable for younger children with its mildly horrific, sometimes unpleasant images and themes that will fly over their heads.

But, even though del Toro has darkened and sometimes vulgarised the tale, there is much to enjoy about the film, which, in spite of its flaws, remains a work of vivid imagination.

The story is updated from the 1800s to (after a foreword in 1916) Mussolini's Fascist Italy of the late 1930s. Geppetto (Bradley) a middle-aged woodcarver, loses his young son in a WW1 bombing raid. Many years later, he carves a wooden puppet in his image. The blue sprite (Swinton) brings the boy to life, and appoints Sebastian J Cricket (McGregor), who lives in a hole in the boy's wood, writing his memoirs, as his guardian.

Packed off to school, the boy, voiced by Mann, is soon led astray by crooked carnival boss Volpe (Waltz) - hard to tell if he's a man or a fox - and his monkey-familar Spazzatura (Blanchett), and embraces showbiz.

Fascism and war loom larger as the narrative progresses, but some elements of the original are sort-of retained. Lampwick becomes Candlewick (Wolfhard), a Facist leader's son, and Pinocchio, Geppetto and Co are swallowed at sea, though by a monster rather than a whale. Pinocchio dies several times, meeting the Death Sprite (also Swinton), whose rabbit mourners clock on and off, before proving himself worthy of becoming a real boy - at a cost.

If most of the characters can't seem to make up their mind whether to pronounce the title character as Pin-know-kio or Pin-knock-io, the stop-motion work is very good throughout, and the cricket the best character - he keeps getting squashed, crying 'Oh, the pain' but comes back bright and chirpy. And what about that Cate Blanchett, eh? A virtuoso lesbian conductor (the upcoming Tar) in one film and a one-eyed monkey in the next.

David Quinlan

USA/Mexico/France 2022. UK Distributor: Netflix. Colour.
116 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 09 Dec 2022