Del Toro explores fascism and puppets in darkly animated Pinocchio

When Guillermo del Toro first set out to make a dark, animated version of Pinocchio 15 years ago, he chose to follow his tale of puppets and their masters pulling the strings in 1930s fascist Italy to play.

The characters of the elderly woodcarver Geppetto and his exuberant living puppet Pinocchio were first created in an 1883 Italian novel and later popularized by Disney.

But in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, out next month on Netflix, they find themselves in Benito Mussolini’s interwar world of military salutes, strict conformity and violent machismo.

“I wanted a moment[to act in the film]where acting like a puppet is a good thing,” del Toro told AFP on the red carpet at this weekend’s AFI Fest in Hollywood.

“I wanted Pinocchio to disobey,” he added.

“I didn’t want Pinocchio, who was the only puppet, to behave like a puppet. I found that thematically perfect.”

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While the subject of fascism might seem timely given recent global politics, del Toro said the film was just as relevant when he conceived the project years ago.

Indeed, del Toro has previously used his distinctive Gothic fairy tales to combat the specter of fascism with films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Spine, both set in Franco-era Spain.

“It’s something that worries me because it’s something that humanity seems to be coming back to,” he said.

“I’ve always seen it. I don’t know if it’s the color of my glasses, but I always see it.”

Fascism is “always alive in the background – or in the foreground,” he said.

‘Kaleidoscopic’ –

The Oscar-winning Mexican director pitched his version of Pinocchio to Hollywood studios and producers for years before streaming giant Netflix finally bought the rights in 2018.

“I’ve been struggling to make it half my career,” del Toro said.

The film required over 1,000 days of shooting.

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It uses the painstaking method of stop motion animation, carefully manipulating puppets frame by frame to create the illusion of movement.

For del Toro, using computer-generated imagery — like Disney’s recent live-action remake of his earlier, groundbreaking 1940 animation — was never an option.

“It was very relevant for me to do a story about a puppet with puppets, and the puppets think they’re not puppets,” he said.

“It’s a very beautiful kind of kaleidoscopic, telescopic thing.”

While del Toro has long had a fascination with animation, he won his Best Director and Best Picture Oscars in 2017 with the live-action The Shape of Water, and Pinocchio is his first animated feature film.

“In North America, animation is considered more of a children’s genre,” del Toro said.

“One of the things I think everyone’s trying to change, not just us, is to say, ‘Animation is film, animation is acting, animation is art.'”

Stop-motion animation can “touch deeply moving, deeply spiritual things,” but it’s “a practice that’s perpetually on the brink of extinction,” he said.

“It’s only kept alive by mad fanatics… we’re keeping it alive!”

mother’s legacy –

As the story explores father-son bonds, Del Toro was fascinated by the character of Pinocchio as a child, when he was introduced to the mischievous puppet by his mother, with whom he was very close.

“I collected artifacts of Pinocchio … My mother and I saw it together when I was very young and she gave me Pinocchios my whole life,” he recalled.

She died last month – just a day before the film’s world premiere in London. Del Toro told the audience that they were about to see “a movie that connected me to my mother my entire life.”

Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio will be released worldwide on Netflix starting December 9th. The film’s voice actors include Ewan McGregor, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro and Tilda Swinton.


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