I feel like Pinocchio is a difficult story to get right, because it’s so unstructured and episodic in its adventures. Guillermo del Toro’s version similarly struggles to create an end-to-end, engaging narrative. The middle of the movie in particular really drags, and I had to start skipping ahead through the overlong musical montage that’s supposed to encapsulate Pinocchio’s time at the carnival. Everything carnival related represents the weakest aspects of this movie. It’s when Guillermo del Toro strays from the more classic Pinocchio story beats that the movie shines. For instance, replacing Pleasure Island with a fascist youth camp was an interesting choice. You don’t get the same body horror of watching a young boy transform into a donkey, but the war setting still adds some serious gravitas. This is a movie where Pinocchio is literally executed at gunpoint, after all.
Yes, the movie is dark, but maybe not as dark as you might expect from a Guillermo del Toro film. Pinocchio repeatedly dying, visiting limbo, and coming back to life was another fun directorial choice that is both macabre and silly. I appreciated how naive and childish Pinocchio was, especially in the beginning. I do think he grows up too fast, though, given that Sebastian (this movie’s Jiminy Cricket) stops influencing him after the first day. The ending of the movie hinges on Sebastian getting his wish, having fulfilled his responsibility to make Pinocchio a good boy. But Sebastian spends the majority of the movie separated from Pinocchio, and so he really didn’t do much and definitely didn’t deserve a free wish to Deus ex Machina us into a happy ending. Well… semi-happy. The final moments are still pretty sad and do solidify this as a poignant (and beautifully animated) take on a familiar story.