It's expected that when famed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro takes on Pinocchio it will be a darker interpretation of the story.
But his stop-motion film (now streaming on Netflix) pushes the imaginative, creative and honest storytelling that can be told from an adventure largely associated with the 1940 Disney animated children's classic.
"I didn't want to make it for kids," del Toro said during a screening in Toronto on Sunday. "I think animation is not a f-cking genre for kids, it's a medium that can explore beauty and sadness and tragedy."
"Those movies, [they're necessary] for the economical sustainment of the medium, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying down with them. No, variety."
Del Toro called classically children-focused animated films, all with a similar structure, "babysitting" movies.
"They turn them on and leave the kids unsupervised because they have been homogenized and pasteurized, and they're good for the parents," del Toro said.
"If you sanitize the world for the kids, you're destroying them... If you don't have the conversations, and you're going have a conversation about life and death whether Peanut the f-cking hamster dies or you see this movie, so have it already... The kids are going to handle it and the art form needs it."
What is 'Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio' about?
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is set during fascist rule in Italy under Mussolini. That creates this beautiful synergy of a story about a puppet, at a time when the expectation was that everyone had to be obedient to the point where they were, essentially, puppets of fascism.
The story begins with Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley), who loses his son Carlo (voiced by Gregory Mann) when a warplane drops a bomb that hits a local church where Geppetto and Carlo had been working to craft a wooden Jesus on the cross. Geppetto is distraught about his son's death, coping with the trauma by becoming a recluse who drinks to excess.
One night Geppetto drunkenly creates a wooden boy, with the tree that harvested a pine cone that Carlo treasured when he was alive. With the piece of wood came Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), who had been living in the tree's trunk.
A Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton) enters Geppetto's home and gives Pinocchio (also voiced by Gregory Mann) the gift of life.
Geppetto wakes up surprised that his wooden creation has come to life, with Pinocchio instantly becoming a creature of concern for Podesta (Ron Perlman), a local fascist official, but an attractive prospective carnival act for the evil Count Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz).
When it comes to the star-studded cast of this stop motion adventure, Guillermo del Toro had some of the actors in mind as he was crafting the story.
“When we were writing, some of the stuff was written specifically for, for example, David Bradley," del Toro said. “I think Ron Perlman had to be there."
“Tilda Swinton, from the beginning we wanted. She has this otherworldly quality that we thought would be really a tremendous help. Ewan McGregor, who is the Cricket character and narrator of the film, we thought has one of the warmest voices."
Del Toro revealed that Cate Blanchett, who plays the monkey Spazzatura that works with Count Volpe, specifically asked to be involved in the film, even though her character doesn't have any lines and just makes monkey noises.
"During Nightmare Alley she said, I want to be part of Pinocchio," del Toro explained. "I said, the only part left is a monkey, and she said, I’ll play the monkey."
A significant point of exploration for Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is the relationship between a father and son.
“I'm a father and I’m a son, I have a huge experience [in] both arenas,” del Toro said.
“Normally in Pinocchio, he learns to obey and he learns to be a good boy, and then he turns into flesh and blood… What I have learned as a father and as a son is the greatest treasure for a son, or a father, is to be seen. To be able to be seen by the other is so eloquent and moving.”
While in Toronto, del Toro said the goal was to make a film about a father "learning to be a real father" as opposed to a boy being a real boy.
"It became the journey of Geppetto, really," del Toro said.
'Old-world craftsmanship and artistry'
For Guillermo del Toro, who had been working on creating this story for about 15 years, with 1,000 days of actually shooting the movie, he wanted it to "land" in a way that had "expressiveness," using stop motion.
"The material nature of a handmade piece of animation, an artisanal, beautiful exercise in carving, painting, sculpting, but it had the sophistication of movement," he told reporters ahead of the film's premiere.
“We live in a moment in which you look at something fantastic and immediately you go to computers... To recuperate the incredible, almost old-world craftsmanship and artistry, and sizes and logistics, real sets with trap doors for the animators to come in,…is really great.”
“One of our guiding principles was to, if we could make it, actually physically produce it, we did that,” del Toro's co-director Mark Gustafson added.
When it comes to the look at feel of the characters, there is so much enticing beauty and texture to the visuals, and yes, this iteration of Pinocchio is slightly frightening — as it should be.
"He was carved when Geppetto was blind drunk, so if you imagine that, that was his conception," Gustafson said.
There was also a commitment to research and detail so everything looked appropriate for the time period.
“We want to make sure that all of the costumes, the textures that we put on these puppets, everything has an accuracy, either historically or to scale,” Georgina Hayns, director of character fabrication, told reporters. “We're making a live action movie, but on a miniature scale.”
“We do a lot into the historical accuracy of the details in the costume… We look into details of real clothing that maybe had some elements that connected it to the illustration of the character."
The collaboration in this movie is incredibly evident, with a team of over 40 animators bringing this story to life.
“This is as close as I've ever had, [in three decades], of having a circus family,” del Toro said while in Toronto. “We all came into the experience and came out of it knowing each other, loving each other.”
“This is not lip service. It's like, almost separation anxiety. We are so close. We know each other's advantages and disadvantages, and we talk about it very openly and beautifully.”