REVIEW: Aside from visuals, pristine looking ‘Pinocchio’ disappoints

I’m starting to think the “Pinocchio” story just isn’t for me.

In director Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of the tale, we’re introduced to Geppetto (David Bradley), a toymaker who lost his son during World War I and became depressed. One night, in his grief, he gathers some timber and builds a puppet meant to be a replacement for his late son.

While the puppet started as just something Geppetto made during a drunken night, though, the doll ends up coming to life thanks to a mystical spirit. While Gepetto initially views Pinocchio with disdain, he eventually warms up to the wooden boy. However, antagonistic forces look to take Pinocchio for their own nefarious purposes.

As stated in the lede, the tale of “Pinocchio” has never been my thing. While the story has often been told in a way to teach different lessons, it’s always felt a bit disjointed. The sequences related to the protagonist working with Honest John and then going to Pleasure Island never coming together coherently.

Additionally, it seems like the main character is put through the ringer for making bad decisions, which always seemed a little unfair. Pinocchio just gained sentience and is still learning right from wrong as basic concepts, and he gets a bunch of hardship for it. The character arc just usually doesn’t work.

I still went in to this adaptation with a bit more hope, as I’ve greatly enjoyed del Toro’s work in the past, his last two films making my top 10 lists of their respective years. To his credit, del Toro puts his own stamp on the film, altering the story to introduce more themes and add something fresh to the tale that’s been told a few times.

Getting a bit of a spin on the traditional story was welcome, and it allowed del Toro to add an anti-fascism message, with the movie taking place during Benito Mussolini’s rule, adding some depth. Yet the film plays out in a way that still seems clunky.

Courtesy Netflix.

Part of the story has Pinocchio working in a sideshow for the character Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) while another has him in a youth military camp helmed by Podesta (Ron Perlman), and there’s not a smooth transition between the two. The finale with the whale feels even more out of place this time, too.

The issues don’t end with the storytelling either. The new “Pinocchio” also, at some points, is a musical. Unfortunately, none of the songs are really ever that good. The music just doesn’t evoke much emotion, and they’re not even that catchy.

The main character himself is also, sadly, rather annoying. The voice for Pinocchio can get really grating after a while and he constantly acts with little self awareness. I get that the voice actor is young and inexperienced, but the performance just didn’t sound good.

As for the character himself, it would have been interesting to see Pinocchio find who he is and develop a personality but the whole film he just seems aloof, as if he has little agency. That’s not to say he doesn’t have any motivation or drive, but he never seems like a fully realized character.

Despite its flaws, though, “Pinocchio” isn’t a poorly made picture. Del Toro and his crew poured a lot of time and energy into the film, making a beautiful stop motion movie. The animation is really gorgeous to look at, and del Toro’s creativeness and vision makes it a unique experience for the eye.

This adaptation is great visually, plus it boasts a good supporting voice cast. However, the story, even with its changes, lacks cohesion, the music is off-putting and the main character isn’t entirely likable. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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