Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
The Blue Fairy is working overtime. Everyone’s favorite long-nosed puppet has gotten not one, but two new adaptations this year. After Disney’s wooden and lifeless remake, visionary filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro, now takes his own crack at carving the story into something captivating. Including the filmmaker’s name in the movie’s title is not just a convenient way to distinguish it from previous versions. This is a del Toro film through-and-through; with his vivid imagination and darker sensibilities coloring the story from the opening scene until the last.
The film shares the same source material as the Disney version, so there are obvious connective threads and familiar story elements. But it is also a drastically different tale, both in the construction and in the plot. You don’t remember Pinocchio dying after being shot with a pistol because he insulted Benito Mussolini by singing a song about poop? Yes, things get pretty weird. Del Toro’s unique vision won’t connect with everyone, and it will likely repel some, but it certainly can’t be accused of being a simple retread.
What shouldn’t be divisive is the fact that, visually, this film is a treat. While the Disney remake lacked any sense of clear identity (is it live-action or animated?), Del Toro’s use of stop-motion is exquisite. The care and attention to detail that went into every single frame is outstanding.
Del Toro has expressed in interviews that he made this film primarily for himself, rather than for children audiences. His nose won’t be growing longer from that statement. This is a dark and almost pessimistic tale. It paints a melancholy picture that the world is filled with pain and grief, and that the most we can do is live our one life well and make the most of it. The film wrestles with mature themes, with very little humor or whimsy. Pinocchio even dies. Several times. Each time he is sent to a sort of purgatorial afterlife, filled with Tim Burton-esque aesthetics, before being sent back. The story is also set against the backdrop of war and fascist Italy, with Pinocchio being conscripted into the fascist youth army instead of visiting Pleasure Island.
I hesitate to say, “this isn’t suitable for children,” since children are capable of handling more mature themes than they are often given credit for, but it is clearly not a film that tries hard to be easily accessible to them. As a complex meditation on life and grief, laced with spiritual themes and mature ideas, the film is a beautiful and challenging work of art. As a potential selection for a family movie night, some audiences might need to look elsewhere.
Engage The Film
Del Toro’s story subverts several of the themes of the Disney version. One such example is on the nature of evil and original sin. In the Disney classic, Pinocchio is essentially presented as selfish and disobedient, and must come to learn to behave properly (Jiminy Cricket is his stand-in conscience until he develops his own). It worked as a sort of imperfect allegory for the biblical teaching on sin (Romans 5:12). In this version, Pinocchio is naïve and somewhat childish, but is innocent and pure. It is not an innate sense of selfishness or sin, but rather the outside world that seeks to corrupt him. This version works more as an echo of Jesus’ teaching, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Obedience and Control
The Disney cartoon is a simple morality tale about learning to obey the rules and behave. In it, Pinocchio must learn to control his rebellious spirit, resist the temptation to do bad, and ultimately come to obey his father. Del Toro intentionally pushes back on this theme. In an interview, he stated, “I really wanted to make a disobedient Pinocchio, and make disobedience a virtue. I wanted everybody to change but him.” Instead of showing obedience as a clear-cut virtue, he explores how that mindset can lead to abuse.
The movie is largely about how the world attempts to force individuals into becoming mere puppets. When Pinocchio is first revealed to the public, the first question he is asked is, “If he’s a puppet, where are his strings? Who controls you, wooden boy?” There are three main paternal figures in Pinocchio’s life—Geppetto, the greedy carnival master, and a fascist government leader. In various ways, all three strive to be Pinocchio’s puppet master. “He’s not your puppet, he’s mine,” shouts one character while literally playing tug-of-war with another character for control of the helpless puppet.
While disobedience is a central theme, this is not necessary a film designed to spur children on to rebel against their parents or all authority. It’s deeper and more nuanced than that. It’s more a meditation on how the world breaks down into a battle for control, and how innocent children are often caught in the middle of it.