I recall just a few months ago when Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio” came out, I didn’t hear much about it. There were no press conferences or interviews that we got to participate in, which was already concerning to me.
And those concerns rang through when the reviews and social media critics were almost angry at how disappointing the new film was. I ended up watching the Robert Zemeckis-helmed film and feeling the same thing. I remember being expectant of much since Zemeckis was behind some of my favorite films of all time: Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away.
Why didn’t the magic touch of this lauded film filmmaker takes an iconic Disney animated film and make it even better?
There are many voices that would probably give numerous answers, including “why, Mr. Zemeckis, did you throw in references to your past films that made no sense?!” However, my own critique comes from a thing that all movies, good or bad, have: story.
If you didn’t know, Walt Disney himself didn’t really originate many of the animated films that brought him success and acclaim. He took inspiration from writers who wrote books he personally loved or his kids loved and remake them into his versions of those stories. He famously did just that when he befriended British author P.L. Travers to see if she would release the rights to make his version of her book “Mary Poppins” as a feature film (and as documented in the film “Saving Mr. Banks.”)
In the same way, Pinocchio was a story that Walt wanted to make because there were risks involved, both creative and dealing with his legacy as a storyteller. He apparently wanted this to be his second movie after his global success with his first animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’’ because it dealt with darkness.
Italian author Carlo Collodi was the author of the original Pinocchio tale of a wooden boy who wanted to be real but included those darker elements that kept audiences in his day at the edge of their seats while reading each serial.
Walt apparently saw that and felt that story was the story that animation could heighten. According to many who worked on the 1940 film, Walt encouraged his teams of animators to “put Pinocchio in the worst places.” His hope was to see this character’s journey be earned at the end, but also create a story where evil goes unpunished.
Jumping forward to today, Zemeckis’ telling of that original tale for some reason fell flat because it leaned further away from the all-stakes story game that Walt’s version had. I understand as a creative wanting to not do the same tale twice, especially if you are given this legacy piece of intellectual property from the same studio. However, I think there are good things about good stories that should be left untouched.
Guillermo del Toro understands this part of storytelling, which is why I think it’s not only the better telling of Pinocchio’s story but one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time.
Much of del Toro’s Pinocchio tale does revisit the original Collodi story, with it taking place in Fascist Italy, where many people were murdered or were suppressed by the dictator Benito Mussolini. It centers on the intimate story between a father and a son who live in that world, and are forever changed by that evil that does unpunished.
And that evil that goes unpunished is something that del Toro intentionally wanted to keep in his telling of the story because he believes those are the stories that resonate with audiences the most.
“This is a story about love and laughter, but it’s equally balanced with loss and grieving,” he told an audience during an advance screening in Los Angeles.
Ultimately, del Toro’s version of Pinocchio succeeds because it doesn’t hide the darker truths of living that much of Walt Disney’s version did and Zemeckis’ version did not.
He continued, “Life is also about contemplating death in its many forms in our lives, and our film takes that into account as well because when you do, you’re more alive than you’ll ever be.”