Guillermo del Toro's masterful artistry and the magical storytelling he's known for are both on display here, which will please fans but could be too scary for younger kids.
His two-hour stop-motion animated Pinocchio, already a dark fable, is made even more somber in this fascist Italy-set rendition, which has several realistic death sequences. It also comes fast on the heels of Disney's own, more sentimental version of the tale, starring Tom Hanks.
Del Toro has created a fascinating universe that starts in a beautifully realistic Italian village and transcends worlds, including a rendering of an afterworld limbo overseen by card-playing rabbits. The artisanal animation, created with co-director Gustafson and a broad crew of animators/puppeteers, is fascinating. It's hard not to want to repeatedly hit pause to soak in the vivid detail of the puppets and their settings, and to wonder at how it's all created.
The film also layers onto the classic fairy tale thicker themes about father-son relationships, the meaning of life, religious zeal, and the absurdities of war and authoritarian rule. The latter could be intended as subversive, yet the messages aren't difficult to understand. Nazi salutes and fascist imagery give way to boys undercutting their war-games training by declaring a "tie," and the local magistrate calling Pinocchio a "dissident" for being an "independent thinker."
There are subtexts here about patriarchs and puppets. One funny bit is the creation of a buffoon-ish Mussolini who is so tiny and pampered he must be lifted out of his car by an eager attendant.
The film has some haunting sequences involving love and death and young boys bonding as they're trained to war against each other, and some gorgeous musical numbers (Alexandre Desplat composed and scored the film) -- especially those featuring Pinocchio's (Mann's) angelic voice. McGregor gives an inspiring voice performance as the pompous cricket-with-a-heart whose narration and regular accidents provide the film's comic relief.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.
Images courtesy of Netflix.