The first reviews are in for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” and by all indications, the stop-motion animation is a resounding success. Fifteen years in the making, the film co-directed by del Toro and Mark Gustafson boasts an all-star cast of voice talent, including Ewan McGregor, Cate Blanchett, Christoph Waltz and Tilda Swinton. However, overwhelming praise for the latest take on Carlo Collodi’s classic tale centered on its visual and thematic approach.
Set in 1930s fascist Italy, “Pinocchio” separates itself from the rest (including Robert Zemeckis’ recent, disastrously received rendition) as a “family movie” that “does not shy away from dark themes of death and war,” per Insider. Its critic Ayomikun Adekaiyero wrote that the adaptation “justifies its existence by modernizing the tale with beautiful stop-motion animation and a tear-jerking story.” On the flip side, Adekaiyero was “disappointed by the mediocrity of the musical elements of the movie,” adding that they were “secondary to the story.”
Wendy Ide of Screen Daily lauded the film’s “enthralling emotional journey,” predicting that “it should connect with both existing fans of del Toro’s distinctive vision, and older family audiences.”
Polygon’s Oli Welsh echoed this sentiment by noting that del Toro brought the “story to the mid-20th century,” by expanding on the classic take “to take in many of his own key motifs, especially from the horrific fairy tales ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth'; Europe between the wars, the specter of Fascism, the terror of childhood, the land of the dead, and the meeting point of the monstrous, the human, and the sublime.” He goes on to praise the film as “technically and artistically, one of the great works of stop motion.”
Slashfilm‘s Hannah Shaw-Williams similarly praised “Pinocchio” for straying from the “ubiquitous Disney formula” by refusing “to talk down to children or draw a sunny curtain over the terrors of the world.” She also gave a shoutout to the film’s “real shining star” Gregory Mann, who voices the titular character “with a rambunctiousness and enthusiasm that’s enormously endearing and infectious.”
TheWrap’s Nicholas Barber called it a “soulful stop-motion masterpiece,” “a dark but sweet horror fantasy about death, grief, and a misunderstood monster being persecuted by authoritarian forces.” He added, “This rebellious spirit ensures that, for all of its seriousness, the film ends up as a life-affirming pleasure.”
While The Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin credits del Toro for making “his presence felt in nearly every frame” — which, Felperin notes, the director’s passionate fans will adore — she writes that “more critical, less indulgent viewers might find this self-referencing a distracting sign of grandiosity or even just laziness.”
IndieWire named “Pinocchio” a Critic’s Pick in a gushing review declaring it del Toro’s “best movie in a decade” and a “triumph” of stop-motion animation. Although he went on to call the songs by Patrick McHale, Roeban Katz and del Toro “as cheerful and catchy as they are melancholic and profound,” most critics found them to be the weakest link.
Variety’s Guy Lodge singled out the film as “a rare children’s entertainment that isn’t afraid to perplex kids as much as it enchants them,” but he too deemed the songs “immediately unmemorable.”
The film’s grounded historical approach serves as “a giant middle finger to the Disneyfication of both the original Carlo Collodi story, and of fairy tales in general,” writes critic Rafael Motamayor.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” held its world premiere Oct. 15 at the London Film Festival. The film debuts in theaters this November before streaming on Netflix on Dec. 9.