[Screen It]


(2022) (voices of Gregory Mann, David Bradley) (PG)

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Stop-Motion-Animation Fantasy: A wooden puppet draws the attention of various people when it's turned into a sentient being.

Decades after the fact, Italian wood crafter and clockmaker Geppetto (voice of DAVID BRADLEY) still grieves the death of his 10-year-old son, Carlo, from a bomb dropped on a church back in 1916.

Now a shell of his former self, that grief and anger result in him chopping down a pine tree grown from Carlo's prized pinecone and then drunkenly carving part of that into a wooden puppet boy. That night, as the literary-minded Sebastian J. Cricket (EWAN McGREGOR) looks on, a magical being, Wood Sprite (voice of TILDA SWINTON), shows up, takes pity on Geppetto, and breathes life into that puppet, turning him into Pinocchio (voice of GREGORY MANN).

Geppetto is taken aback by this development, especially considering that this boy's behavior is very much unlike the seemingly perfect Carlo. But the sentient puppet draws the interest of carnival master Count Volpe (voice of CHRISTOPH WALTZ) and his monkey assistant, Spazzatura (voice of CATE BLANCHETT) who want to make Pinocchio the headliner of their traveling show.

When it's learned that the puppet is immortal -- following a run-in with Death (voice of TILDA SWINTON) who sends him back to the world of the living -- that draws the interest of fascist military man Podesta (voice of RON PERLMAN) who sees Pinocchio as the ultimate soldier and an upgrade from his son, Candlewick (voice of FINN WOLFHARD).

As Pinocchio obliviously reacts to all that attention, Geppetto comes to realize that the puppet is the son he covets and thus sets out to rescue him from those who are using him for ulterior reasons.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10

I'll admit I've never understood why copyrights and patents aren't perpetual. While I'm glad some pharmaceutical patents only last twenty years and thus allow generic -- and far more affordable -- copies to be sold of life-saving drugs, the limited yet longer-lasting creative side makes no sense.

If I create the story of Bobblygook Whippersnapperpants, why does my copyright protection only last a set amount of time rather than forever? What's the public advantage of allowing Mr. Whippersnapperpants to enter the public domain?

Whatever the argument for the expiration of such protections might be, the sad fact is that once there's a free-for-all on such creations, pale imitator copycats are often the result. One need only look at this past summer's incarnation of "Pinocchio" (starring the usually reliable Tom Hanks) as proof positive of that.

Yet, on the flip side, we now have the second version of 2022. And it's the terrific "Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio," a Netflix offering that puts a fresh and creative spin on the old tale of the wooden puppet who longs to be a real-life boy.

Co-directed by Mark Gustafson from a screenplay Del Toro co-wrote with Patrick McHale, Del Toro has permeated the film with his visual storytelling sense, which should have fans of his previous works such as "Pan's Labyrinth," "The Shape of Water," and "Nightmare Alley," salivating about what's in store for them here.

And that would be a unique take and approach on the all-too-familiar tale while keeping the central tenets in place and modifying and jettisoning others. The most obvious one up front is using stop-motion-animation to tell the story and it's obvious that anyone who deploys that technique has to love making movies as it's a painstaking, bit-by-bit way of creating a movie. And while not entirely novel, there's also the addition of musical numbers scattered throughout the film's nearly two-hour runtime.

The biggest update, though, is dropping the story in the middle of wartime. That begins with the WWI era prologue where Italian wood craftsman Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) witnesses a dropped bomb land on a church where his perfect 10-year-old son, Carlo (Gregory Mann), has returned to retrieve a prized pinecone.

The boy dies, the grieving father plants the pinecone, and time passes by until we're in Benito Mussolini-controlled Italy of the 1930s where fascism has grown as much as the resultant pine tree. And with many people becoming puppets of that regime -- including fascist Podesta (Ron Perlman) and his lockstep young son, Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard) -- a drunken Geppetto decides to cut down that tree and carve up part of that into a wooden puppet meets makeshift replacement son.

While he's passed out -- and as a newcomer insect, Cricket (Ewan McGregor), looks on -- a wood sprite (Tilda Swinton) shows up and -- feeling compassion for the old man -- decides to turn that marionette into the sentient Pinocchio (Gregory Mann).

That new and awkward addition to the town not only draws the interest of Podesta -- especially when he later learns the puppet is immortal and thus would make the perfect soldier -- but also carnival owner Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) who sees Pinocchio as the star headliner for his show, drawing the jealous ire of his previous favorite, Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett), a performing monkey.

With the addition of the wartime/military elements and a few visits to the underworld featuring poker-playing rabbit skeletons and none other than Death herself (Tilda Swinton again), this adaptation of Carlo Collodi's beloved tale might be a bit dark for younger kids. But what else would you expect from Del Toro who leaves his creative fingerprints all over this project and the stop-motion-animation puppets that he and his team have brought to life?

In this case, I'm glad the old work was available in the public domain for the filmmaker who breathes new and more thematically dense life into the story. "Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Posted December 16, 2022

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