Director: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale
Starring: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Cate Planchett, Christoph Waltz and Tilda Swinton
Country: United States, Mexico
Running Time: 117 min
Year: 2022

If you’re into film, you probably know about the work of Guillermo del Toro. An auteur in his own right, del Toro has worked in every genre, be it superhero movies (Blade II, Hellboy), horror (Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone), romance (The Shape of Water, Crimson Peak), fantasy (Pan’s Labyrinth and even kaiju action (Pacific Rim) so eventually, it would make sense that one of del Toro would create a film in one of his favourite genres ever, animation. 

With Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, del Toro co-directed a stop-motion musical adaptation of the classic children’s story with Mark Gustafson and thanks to the brand-new home media release from Criterion, I’m finally getting a chance to check it out. 

Immediately, I want to touch on the animation in this film because it’s absolutely gorgeous. I checked out the Blu-ray, although Criterion have also released a 4K UHD version with Dolby Vision (I imagine this looks even better!) and on a purely visual level, this film is an utter delight. You can feel the craft and passion in every single frame and as traditional animation becomes less and less common as 3D animation dominates the landscape of animated cinema, it’s always great to see something that feels so personal and hand-crafted.

While I’m no scholar of Pinocchio adaptations, I’m aware of the general structure of these films and seeing del Toro’s take on the story is a fascinating viewing, even if it’s not something that I was over the moon with. It’s a coming-of-age tale and a road movie that doesn’t shy away from some of the darker themes present in the source material, and it’s something that can work at times, and doesn’t at others.

As previously mentioned, the film’s a musical and unfortunately, that’s where the film absolutely lost me. I’m a huge fan of musicals, as long as the music is good and in the case of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, the music is by far the weakest aspect. Almost every number includes an abundance of vocal manipulation, primarily with AutoTune that’s both noticeable and distracting in a way that I doubt was intentional. Besides from the sound being a little too uncanny valley for me, they’re not particularly memorable on a songwriting level either, which is a shame as I’m always championing directors who try out new things. 

The narrative as a whole is compelling, if a tad messy due to how conflicted it is. On one hand, the film dives into mortality, death and some really dark themes that I found incredibly compelling and on the other side, it wants to be the happy, animated family film that everybody can enjoy. Because of this, I found it to have tonal whiplash that I could never really get on board with the film as I was hoping to. 

The voice cast is impressive, with Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, Tom Kenny, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson being just a few of the many stars attached to the project and they’re all great here. Bradley in particular is delightful as Geppetto and Mann’s performance as Pinocchio fits the role perfectly, with an enthusiastic, energetic and joyful take on the wooden puppet. 

While I can’t say I was in love with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, there’s a lot to admire from the end result. Truly gorgeous animation that looks excellent on Blu-ray, a packed voice cast that brings the characters and world to life as well as some compelling and heartbreaking moments that I found very effective. It’s always great to see Netflix original films receive a home media release so I’m happy that fans of the film can add this one to their collection.

Film:

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio released on the 18th December 2023 on 4K UHD and Blu-ray. I was sent a copy of the Blu-ray and as stated in the review, I found it absolutely gorgeous. With consistently high bitrates that stay around the 35Mbps mark, there’s no visual artefacts or noticeable signs of compression and after comparing it to the streaming version available on Netflix, the Blu-ray tops it in every way. I can only imagine how excellent the UHD version looks with that added Dolby Vision colour grade! On an audio level, a Dolby Atmos track is included and it sounds solid, although it didn’t wow me as much as the visuals. English subtitles are also included. Overall, it’s a stunning presentation that I can safely recommend. The following extras are included: 

DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

4K digital master, supervised by directors Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson, with Dolby Atmos soundtrack

Handcarved Cinema, a new documentary featuring del Toro, Gustafson, and cast and crew, including the film’s puppet creators, production designers, and animation supervisor

Directing Stop-Motion, a new program featuring del Toro and Gustafson

New conversation between del Toro and film critic Farran Smith Nehme

New interview with curator Ron Magliozzi on The Museum of Modern Art’s 2022 exhibition devoted to the film

New program on the eight rules of animation that informed the film’s production

Panel discussion featuring del Toro, Gustafson, production designer Guy Davis, composer Alexandre Desplat, and sound designer Scott Martin Gershin, moderated by filmmaker James Cameron

Conversation among del Toro, Gustafson, and author Neil Gaiman

English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing and English descriptive audio

PLUS: Essays by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and author Cornelia Funke

Handcarved Cinema – An extended version of a documentary that premiered on Netflix alongside the release of the film in 2022. While the version on Netflix runs for 36 minutes, this version is 45 minutes long and works as a typical behind-the-scenes making-of documentary, which offers footage during production, interviews with all of the key figures behind the film and more. It’s a solid watch that covers all the aspects that you’d hope for and I absolutely recommend it. 

Directing Stop-Motion – In this brand new 26 minute interview conducted by Criterion, directors Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson discuss their process crafting the film, as well as their influences such as King Kong and Jason and the Argonauts. It’s an insightful interview that dives into all aspects of the film’s production that’s worth checking out.

Guillermo del Toro and Farran Smith Nehme – In this new 21 minute interview exclusive to the Criterion release, del Toro is interviewed by Farran Smith Nehme about his history with the story of Pinocchio and what he wanted to bring to his take on this classic story by turning it into a musical. He touches on why he didn’t want to water down the story for kids which I found interesting. It’s another solid interview and del Toro’s passion for the project is extremely captivating. 

Crafting Pinocchio for Moma – Ron Magliozzi is interviewed in this 7 minute featurette and touches on how the Museum of Modern Art decided to craft an exhibition while the film was in production. There’s some great behind-the-scenes footage included and seeing how crucial it was for MoMa to preserve del Toro’s art is great to see. 

Eight Rules of Animation – This six minute featurette includes the directors explaining their eight rules for animating the film, with storyboard comparisons complimenting an actual directing session over Zoom. It’s a fun extra that’s a fascinating insight into the pair’s directorial style. 

2022 conversation with Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson, and author Neil Gaiman – In this first of two Q&A sessions, the directors are joined by Neil Gailman, writer of Coraline, Good Omens and The Sandman, who gushes over the film for 30 minutes and asks a variety of questions to the pair. Del Toro states that he wanted the film to convey love in a way that would hopefully connect with audiences, as well as not making the film an adult del Toro film, instead of a children’s del Toro film. It’s an interesting session that’s worth checking out!

2023 panel discussion featuring Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson, production designer Guy Davis, composer Alexandre Desplat, and sound designer Scott Martin Gershin, moderated by filmmaker James Cameron – In this second Q&A, an array of crew members are joined by James Cameron (Aliens, Terminator 2, Titanic, Avatar) to discuss the more technical aspects of the film, such as how co-directing an animated film works, the process of shooting and more. 

An original trailer is included. 

I wasn’t provided with the digibook packaging or the essays, but I assume they’re up to the same high quality as prior Criterion releases.

Criterion’s Pinocchio package is an impressive one, with a series of solid supplemental features that compliment the film well. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the film, I can’t deny that it’s an excellent package and fans of the film should absolutely add this one to their collection!

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Where to watch Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio - Criterion Collection
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