Save for Peter Pan, it’s difficult to land on a trickier proposition for the big screen than The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.
Just ask Roberto Begnini, whose 2002 post-Oscar dream project was a box-office catastrophe.
Or Robert Zemeckis, whose recent live-action remake of Disney’s charming 1940 animation arrived last September with a dull thud.
Dropping within months of Pinocchio: A True Story (2022), an animated Russian film featuring the voices of Pauly Shore, Jon Heder, and Tom Kenny, here comes the hat trick. An entire cabinet of Pinocchios.
Guillermo del Toro, one of cinema’s great visual stylists, has a grand and original plan for the 140-year-old story of the mischievous animated marionette and his adopted woodcarving father, Geppetto.
The Shape of Water director’s stop-motion animation takes place in fascist Italy between the wars, a setting that allows for much contemplation of mortality, a dramatic bombing sequence that robs the carpenter of his only (human) son, and a cameo appearance by Benito Mussolini.
The lighting is exquisite. The Italian exteriors are transportive. The character designs can be inspired. Tilda Swinton’s Blue Fairy is impressively unsettling; the twig-brown title character is sometimes less pleasing to the eye.
McGregor’s cricket is the heart of the movie as the conscience. There’s much to love about Christophe Waltz’s manipulative Count Volpe and the casting of Cate Blanchett as a non-verbal hench-monkey named Spazzatura.
It’s a lovely thing to behold, but who exactly is this for? Unlike Matteo Garrone’s sublime 2019 fantasy, a version that managed to be faithful, wildly imaginative and all-ages in appeal, this brooding musical veers wildly between primary school scatology, repeated journeys to the underworld and darkest history.
Pinocchio, despite a lively performance by Gregory Mann, is not merely disobedient; he’s a bit of a dose. The songs by Alexandre Desplat do not represent the best work of that composer’s career. The action sequences are chaotic. And for all the monsters and fatalism, there’s nothing as genuinely scary as the jackass sequence of the 1940 Disney version.