“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” has been met with critical acclaim — it boasts a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I was expecting to love it, particularly because Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is one of my favorite films. At every turn, Pinocchio sets up interesting philosophical and psychological puzzles. But it ultimately falls flat in its lack of commitment to these investigations.
Since “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is based on such iconic source material, I went in anticipating certain themes from the original. For example, everyone knows that the original Pinocchio wants to be a real boy. Yet in del Toro’s adaptation, Pinocchio just wants his father to love him; he doesn’t really care about his wooden differences to those around him. Another essential element of Pinocchio lore is that the wooden boy’s nose grows when he lies. However, del Toro’s reimagining barely includes the nose issue. We see Pinocchio’s growing nose when we first meet him and again in the end when he heroically uses his nose to save the day. Beyond this, there is a whole middle section where his nose doesn’t come up at all. Ultimately, del Toro introduces and then abandons a fascinating phenomenon, only returning to it for the purpose of plot. Are we to expect that Pinocchio never bent the truth during this whole time? At one point, Pinocchio exclaims “I love war!” in an attempt to fit in with his friend Candlewick, but his nose does not grow at this clear lie. The original story is essentially Pinocchio’s journey learning to be a good boy. The purpose of his growing nose, then, is a physical demarcation of his occasional immorality. In del Toro’s take, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is a story about conformity. Pinocchio is already a good boy, just one who doesn’t understand the social rules of the world around him and is manipulated into bad situations. He doesn’t need to gain a conscience. What, then, is the purpose of having Pinocchio’s nose grow at all?
I hate to say this as a lover of weird creatures, but I also thought there was little point to Sebastian S. Cricket’s presence in the film. Sebastian moves into the pine tree to write his memoirs the same night that Gepetto chops the tree down to create Pinocchio. Sebastian, affronted, exclaims that he will stay by his beloved home. But he has lived in many places and this has only been his home for a couple of hours, so his excessive interest in this tree feels arbitrary. Furthermore, while Jiminy Cricket was meant as a physical manifestation of Pinocchio’s conscience, Sebastian S. Cricket spends the majority of the movie separated from his ward. And, as mentioned, this Pinocchio doesn’t really need a conscience. It’s a big investment to include a talking cricket in a world with no other talking animals, and one that doesn’t really pay off.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” also suffers from overuse of deus ex machina. Geppetto is sad about his son’s death; a tree spirit makes his wooden creation come to life. Pinocchio dies; we find out he’s actually immortal and can never die. Pinocchio wants to speed up his death process to save Geppetto; suddenly he can choose to be mortal. Geppetto is sad Pinocchio is dead; Sebastian Cricket uses his wish to bring Pinocchio back to life. In a world of war, where there is so much death and so much grief, these arbitrary reversals of life feel hollow. To create a universe in which we see the afterlife and then only to show us this afterlife a handful of times feels like a waste. We are introduced to the philosophical question: what does it mean to live forever? Is it Pinocchio’s immortality that makes him not a real boy? I was excited to see these questions explored, but again they are set up only to be left unanswered.
Pinocchio is also, of course, a story about the love between father and son. What’s difficult about this is that Geppetto and Pinocchio only know each other for a matter of days. We hear a lot about how much they love each other, but we get barely any scenes of the two of them. What makes Geppetto so much more important than any of the other fathers who lost children in the war that he deserves a new child and they do not? What makes him more deserving than the victims of the Holocaust?
Despite these issues, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is an enchanting movie. The character Pinocchio is charming and sweet and lovely to watch. The stop-motion animation is hauntingly beautiful. Del Toro tells his own compelling story, but one that feels irrelevant and false to the source material. The narrative ultimately suffers from this Pinocchio’s goodness — he doesn’t lie and needs no outer conscience. There is ultimately, then, no point to his growing nose or the cricket — two pieces essential to his very construction in the original.
Jiminy Cricket, the loveable cricket who plays the role of Pinocchio’s conscience, had a very different storyline in the original story. In the fourth chapter of Collodi’s book, the Talking Cricket was a philosopher who attempted to advise Pinocchio, but the puppet got mad and smashed the cricket.