Guillermo del Toro Says His ‘Pinocchio’ Is Dark, But ‘There Are More Dangerous Things in Shampoo Commercials’

The director didn’t make his movie for kids, but he thinks “there’s nothing in this movie unacceptable to watch in family environments”

Guillermo del Toro Pinocchio

Whenever Guillermo del Toro appears at screenings of his and Mark Gustafson’s stop-motion film “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” he usually makes a point of saying that the movie was not made for children. And whenever he says that, there are invariably kids in the audience.

That’s what happens when you have an animated film based on an old story that has already served as the basis for a famous animated feature from Disney – it arrives with the assumption that it’s a movie for kids. But while del Toro’s “Pinocchio” includes a wrenching death early in the film and turns the title character’s quest to become a “real boy” into one that involves more confrontations with death and loss, the Oscar-winning director is fine with kids coming to see his film, as long as their parents are ready to talk to them about it.

“Listen, that is a crux of animation,” del Toro told TheWrap. “That is something that animation has to claim for itself: the right to be a medium and not a genre.

“That is one conversation. The second conversation is that there is absolutely nothing in this movie that is unacceptable for an audience to watch in family environments. It’s a movie that is going to prompt questions, but there is no more darkness in this film than in the classical Disney films. You need darkness to render light.”

The idea, he said, was to make a movie that could stand in his filmography alongside films like “The Devil’s Backbone” and the Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth” – films that had children as protagonists, but that were not kid’s stuff by any means.        

“In the most susceptible cases, it will need dialogue to talk about life and death and so forth,” he said. “But I feel extremely happy to say that the many times we have seen it with an audience, kids seem to react with great curiosity and love. I think this movie is full of truth and love and forgiveness. There are more dangerous things in shampoo commercials than in this film.” He laughed. “We’re speaking our truth and showing a beautiful story.”

His co-director Mark Gustafson, a stop-motion veteran whose other work includes “Claymation Easter” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” with Wes Anderson, said that the more serious and darker side of this version was protected because of del Toro’s clout with Netflix, which backed and released the film. “When you have someone like Guillermo guarding the gates, you feel very comfortable and confident that you’re not going to have to answer to a focus group,” Gustafson said. “If we feel like this is what’s best for the film, then that’s what we’re going to do. We didn’t do anything gratuitously, but we were able to go to those darker areas with confidence that we were also creating these other light areas.

“It was all going to live together. There’s (slapstick Warner Bros. animator) Tex Avery in this movie, in a way, but there are also themes of sorrow and loss. And I think they’re all the stronger because they’re next to a dancing poop puppet.”

A longer interview with Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gufstason about “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” will appear in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.