You might think the story of “Pinocchio” is familiar, but it’s not. There have been at least 60 film adaptations for film and TV, including of course Disney’s 1940 animated version.
In “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” the filmmaker and his team don’t follow the plot too closely, but it’s more faithful than most in retaining the darkness, tenderness and humor of Carlo Collodi’s 1881 novel.
The Netflix movie was written by Patrick McHale and Del Toro, who shares directorial credits with Mark Gustafson. It’s not a children’s movie, but it is.
“Patrick and I were writing for an audience that could include children,” Del Toro says. “There’s a difference between a ‘family movie’ and a ‘babysitter movie.’ The latter is pasteurized for consumption without parental supervision. We wanted a film that adults and children could discuss and enjoy, whether they were together or not.”
“The basic idea has always been there,” Del Toro says. Finally, the writers come up with a father-son story that parallels each other. In addition to Pinocchio’s relationship with Geppetto, there is the Fascist Podesta, who does not recognize who his son is; and Count Volpe, with his tortured monkey-chicken Spazzatura.
Filmmaker Grice was impressed by Grimley’s portrayal of the story and they met around 2003. Del Toro says the first screenplay was written about five years later.
The film, a potential Oscar contender in multiple categories, is an important shift from the book, he says. A key change was “Pinocchio doesn’t have to turn into a quote-unquote ‘real boy'”; Del Toro rejected the idea that Pinocchio had to change in order to find love and acceptance.
In dialogue, the filmmaker draws a comparison between the puppets in Mary Shelley’s novel and Dr. Frankenstein’s creations, as both innocents enter a world for which they are unprepared.
As the script evolved over the years, it was important to maintain a sense of fun and adventure but also deal with heavy subjects. “We started discussing mortality, life and death and our short time on earth. That stemmed from considering my father’s vulnerability, losing my father and my own role as a father,” he says.
Collodi’s book emphasizes compulsion, but del Toro prefers civil disobedience. “These themes and concepts of disobedience apply not only to a regime, but to parenting as well.” This explains the presence of Mussolini and the Fascists in the film.
An aspect of the book rarely revealed in the adaptation is that “Pinocchio changes everyone, including Geppetto. It becomes the story of the transformation of Geppetto and the crickets. Pinocchio is a handful. He is hyperkinetic, loud, mostly uncaring, and Geppetto is an imperfect father; he is with perfection. Obsessed, but her journey ends with accepting imperfection and loving it even more.
“Cricket is full of great wisdom at the beginning but it is not very practical, and when he suffers, he gains humility and his last scene shows that Cricket has acquired an earthly wisdom.”
The filmmaker summarizes, “At the end of the film, if you feel the urge to call someone you’ve been separated from, then we’ve achieved something — we’re together for this brief moment, imperfect as we are. “