Overall, I wouldn't say Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is a "dark" movie so much as it is a challenging one — refreshingly so, with knotty, complex questions and real peril.
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Unfolding over a faintly indulgent but never dull two hours, this is a rare children’s entertainment that isn’t afraid to perplex kids as much as it enchants them, down to a coda that prompts a certain level of junior existential contemplation (not to mention a mournful tear or two).
I feel tempted to say there’s a leaner, stronger film inside this that could have been coaxed out, but in the light of the film’s message about accepting people as they are, maybe we shouldn’t be shaming this film either. It is what it is, and that’s perfectly imperfect.
It’s intense, creepy, often harrowing stuff, so you can see why del Toro has said in interviews that his Pinocchio isn’t a children’s film. But that doesn’t mean that brave children, and brave adults, won’t adore it.
It’s an unruly, wild, and tender film that sometimes gets lost but, by the end, finds its way to a very moving state of grace.
Pinocchio feels like the best mix of classic del Toro and new del Toro, with the wisdom and melancholy that comes with age and experience, yet his bright-eyed love of fairy tales from his Spanish-language films. Perhaps more impressive is how Pinocchio pushes the oldest form of animation to new places, and like the puppet himself, breathes life into inanimate objects.
Through the eyes of the Mexican filmmaker, the familiar fable is made anew, carefully carved by the hands of an artist eternally enamored with his craft. This loving relationship between creator and creation imbues the film with the type of contagious excitement that brings one back to the joy of the early days of cinemagoing, a thrilling jolt of nostalgia that only emphasizes the miraculous nature of this fresh recreation.
A film which doesn’t sugar-coat the ache of bereavement, the futility of war or the manifold failures of mankind, but which manages to balance the darkness with sparks of hope, humour and humanity.