If you ask Guillermo del Toro if his “Pinocchio” is suitable for children, he will tell you that “it’s not necessarily made to the Children, but children can see it.”
Described as “a fable about disobedience as a virtue,” Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio, now available on Netflix, is a screenplay based around the themes of Walt Disney’s classic 19th-century adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s children’s story, and is set in fascist Italy during the Rise of Benito Mussolini.
Directed by Del Toro and Mark Gustafson, the wooden puppet at the heart of this story is a grieving father’s drunken creation brought to life by a forest spirit. This Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) doesn’t necessarily care about being good to become a real boy, but he is willing to try to behave to make Geppetto (David Bradley) proud.
However, what emerges as the film progresses is that it is not Pinocchio who needs to change in order to be loved – it is up to Geppetto to recognize and appreciate the miracle that has been given to him.
“Pinocchio is there to change the lives of others,” Del Toro said during a recent video call. “It’s almost the adventures of Geppetto, this film. Geppetto, who was initially obsessed with perfection… ends up saying, “Whatever you are, whoever you are, I love you just the way you are.” That was the impetus for it [movie].”
It was this twist that appealed to Gustafson, a stop-motion veteran who made his feature film directorial debut with Pinocchio.
“It opened [the story] very different,” said Gustafson. “What teaches you about yourself about disobedience? What can you learn from the world if you push back a bit, if everyone is just in step and going in one direction?”
For Del Toro, who co-wrote the screenplay with Patrick McHale, the longtime Pinocchio is deeply personal. The Academy Award-winning Mexican filmmaker names Pinocchio and Frankenstein’s Creature as two characters he identified “very strongly” with growing up.
“They both represent some kind of disenfranchised son with a father who just throws them out into the world hoping they’ll find out,” Del Toro said. “I felt it was very close to my experience of raising children.”
Inspired by Gris Grimly’s illustrations for a 2002 edition of Collodi’s Pinocchio, Del Toro knew animation, and especially stop-motion, was the only way his version of the story could go. In a world where everyone acts like puppets, what better way to tell a story about a puppet than with actual puppets? Mainly to show that even in a world populated by puppets, where the fascist regime dictates unity of thought, Pinocchio is still an anomaly?
“The conceit behind fascism is the darkest take on a father figure,” Del Toro said. “The strongman in fascism is a very dark and seductive power figure for stray souls looking for some sort of father figure who can dictate what you do.”
This made Mussolini’s Italy the perfect setting for a film that tells ‘rhyming tales of fathers and sons’. As Del Toro points out, Geppetto and Pinocchio aren’t the only father-son couple starring in the film. There’s Volpe, the extravagant carnival leader who seduces Pinocchio into taking part in his stage show, and his puppeteer monkey, Spazzatura. There’s also Candlewick, a young boy living in Pinocchio’s hometown, and his father, a fascist officer determined to make Pinocchio play by the rules. And in all three relationships, the sons begin to fight back.
By juxtaposing a specific historical moment with a story about a child, Pinocchio carries on the spirit of earlier Del Toro works such as The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), which used moments throughout the film The time of the Spanish Civil War was used as a backdrop. But beyond the connection between fascism and certain types of parenting, his “Pinocchio” addresses death and rebirth and the consequences of one’s choices – subjects and issues that some may find too weighty for children’s entertainment.
“We have a lot of faith in kids,” Gustafson said. “You can handle it. We decided early on we will not condescend with them.”
Del Toro added, “Kids, especially now, have an incredible sense of what’s authentic and what’s not.”
Still, Gustafson said one of the challenges in making this film was finding the balance between dark and light moments. That could be why a certain cricket is repeatedly the target of more traditional cartoon violence.
“Children can watch [“Pinocchio”] when their parents talk to them. If they’re willing to have a conversation about ideas versus ideologies or a conversation about life and death,” said DelToro. It’s important to have these conversations about “the larger realities of life,” he said, “because kids don’t want easy answers. Kids want to piece together the true answers.”
Pinocchio is just one of several films to be released this year that explore children who are defying their parents’ expectations. From Pixar’s Turning Red to Everything Everywhere All at Once to Netflix’s other stop-motion feature Wendell & Wild, these stories have all shown different paths to parental acceptance.
“I think it’s a very timely issue,” Del Toro said. “I think my generation has started to not only question our fathers and our father figures, but actually question and understand them more as people and not just as figureheads. our greatest hope [as with] Every generation after us is that we are seen for what we are, not what they wanted us to be.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-12-09/guillermo-del-toro-pinocchio-netflix-fascism-father-figures ‘Pinocchio’ Netflix: Guillermo del Toro explains fascist setting