A Guillermo del Toro version of beloved children’s character Pinocchio was always likely to be a little darker than most adaptations and perhaps something not exactly child-friendly. But — although it’s not the first time he’s done so — few would have immediately expected his stop-motion musical adaptation of the fantasy drama to be set against the backdrop of fascism.
Speaking at a special event held by Netflix ahead of Saturday’s world premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio — his animated feature film directorial debut (he co-directed alongside Mark Gustafson) — the acclaimed Mexican director said that the film was “thematically” on the same level as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, which both involved the Spanish Civil War (The Devil’s Backbone set during and Pan’s Labyrinth afterwards, during Franco’s early reign). Keeping geographically correct, his Pinocchio takes place in Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy.
“The three movies are to do with childhood coming up against something that has to do with war and violence,” he explains. “I think for me, it’s always been the movies about fatherhood and being a father or being a son, and I think in those iterations, Fascism seems to be concerned with a father figure of a different kind, and the desire to deliver ourselves to a father that unifies thought. So I think it’s both a background and it is something interesting thematically.”
Del Toro said he understood why his Pinocchio came with his name in the title, because he wanted to turn his version on its head.
“For me, there is Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, there is Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, and there’s Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” he explained. “Because to me, the interesting thing was: Can I make a Pinocchio that celebrates disobedience as opposed to celebrating obedience? Can I make a Pinocchio in which he doesn’t have to turn into a real boy at the end because he was obedient?”
In a rare instance of name-dropping for a filmmaker who has worked with numerous major stars, del Toro said he once spent a “drunken evening in Brazil” discussing literature with the late One Hundred Years of Solitude author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “And he said there were 10 characters in the history of literature that can be interpreted any way they want, including Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein, Pinocchio and the Count of Monte Cristo. He said you could use them for symbols of many, many different things. You can put them in space, you can make them president, you can put them in a political or financial context. Anything. There will always be songs that will change with the key of the singer. And I thought that was incredibly liberating.”
Starring a voice cast including Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, David Bradley, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard and newcomer Gregory Mann as Pinocchio, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is due for release in select cinemas in November and will land on Netflix on Dec. 9.