Monday, January 30, 2023

Review: Del Toro takes his Pinocchio to very dark places

Let’s face it, “Pinocchio” (“Pinocchio”) has always been a strange morality for children.

Of course lying is wrong, but that is not the only message this story conveys. Even in Disney’s classic 1940 version—which is lighter and more kid-friendly than Carlo Collodi’s 1883 tale—it expresses that if you’re not “good” enough, you don’t deserve to be human.

“A child that is no good should be made of wood,” the Blue Fairy admonishes Pinocchio in that film. Really? So what happened to the idea that “to err is human”? Not to mention second chances or a learning curve. And what does it mean to be “good” anyway. Haven’t you heard about the value of relativism?

But now it’s Guillermo del Toro’s turn, with his impressive talent, to shake things up. It’s definitely not Disney’s Pinocchio—not the 1940s classic or the modern version released a few months ago. How would your son feel (or for that matter are you trying to convince him) to see the fascist salute? Who is this man named Mussolini? Are bombs falling from the sky? Is a father passing a gun to his son? And you say “shoot” puppet?

Del Toro, whose version of Pinocchio is so different that the film’s title is actually “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” has more visual command than anyone could hope for, teaming up with Mark Gustafson for his grand four-part The animation project includes three Oscar winners in English with a stellar voice: Christoph Waltz, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton. The film looks impressively beautiful at times due to its colors and textures. And it makes you want to hop on a plane to find the Italian town where Geppetto lives, with cobblestone streets surrounded by snow-capped mountains that can be seen through the mist.

Pinocchio, too, looks a lot more interesting than the blue-eyed, bow-tie puppet we’re used to. It’s an adorable masterpiece of grainy pine, curls of wood, and just heartbreak. Maybe it’s because he makes one mistake after another and making mistakes… well, it doesn’t matter.

We meet Geppetto (David Bradley) when he is the happy father of flesh-and-blood boy, Carlo. “All they needed was each other’s company,” says cricket narrator Sebastian, played by Ewan McGregor. Father and son spend their evenings reading stories around the campfire, and Carlo accompanies Geppetto on his work restoring a colossal statue of Jesus on the church altar. It is here that tragedy strikes, a warplane drops a bomb on the temple, killing Carlo. Geppetto lives out his duel by drinking wine.

And amidst his pain, he cuts down a pine tree and makes a puppet. During the night the Spirit of the Wood (Swinton, whose sister Death is also played by Swinton) comes to visit them. As in other versions, he asks Cricket to look after Pinocchio and be his conscience.

Geppetto takes the puppet to church, but encounters hostility: “Why doesn’t it have strings? Who controls it?” At home, Pinocchio wonders why everyone loves the wooden Jesus, but not him. In town, a fascist leader denounces Pinocchio as a “dissident” and “free-thinker”.

As in the other versions, Pinocchio becomes trapped with a greedy businessman, Count Volpe (Waltz), who forces him to perform in a show. Unlike the other versions, there is Il Duce (Mussolini) in the audience and, differently, Mussolini orders Pinocchio to be shot. Pinocchio also gets run over by a truck. Fortunately death sends him back to earth.

If that doesn’t sound very appropriate for young children, you haven’t read anything yet. Pinocchio ends up in a fascist militarized camp where children are sent to play deadly games. Compared to this part of the film, Geppetto’s time in the whale’s belly seems rather bizarre.

Did we mention the movie is a musical? Freud would probably say that there is a reason why we forget it. The songs, some catchier than others, often seem to be skipped soon after they start, easily fading away as we move on to something else. The musical element is best used in the theater scenes, where Volpe forces Pinocchio to act. And kids will definitely enjoy the song in which Pinocchio taunts Mussolini in a daring and dangerous way with lyrics about excrement and farts.

But Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” is clearly not aimed just at children, but takes advantage of the fact that adults will also be attracted to the story’s stunning visuals and mature themes.

Those topics include parenting. For most of the film, Geppetto wishes that Pinocchio was like his human son, Carlo. But gradually she learns that she doesn’t need to change Carlo – Pinocchio is fine the way he is and he doesn’t need to become human in order to be loved.

Del Toro also makes explicit reference to the danger of uncritical collective thinking. In fact, it seems that he chose the background of fascism to indicate that those closed townspeople who suspect Pinocchio because he is different are actually the puppets, not Pinocchio.

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” a Netflix release, received a rating of PG (some parental guidance) from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for “dark thematic material, violence, danger, crude humor and brief scenes of smokers.” Recommends it) is rated. Duration: 114 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Nation World News Desk
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