First, you can put aside “When you wish upon a star” and other deep-rooted cultural standards set by of the 1940 Disney classic. Because Guillermo del Toro, maker of such mind-benders as The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth, is in the house with a complete reimagining of the original Italian story, which dates to the 19 th century, all in astounding stop-motion puppet animation (fitting, no?). Mark Gustafson co-directs. You know the basic story. Geppetto (voice by David Bradley), a woodworker who has lost a young son, creates a wooden puppet (Gregory Mann) that magically walks, talks… and misbehaves.
But del Toro’s take is far more detailed, darker and more sinister, delving into geopolitics, the futility of war and mankind’s many failures. The setting is now pre-WWII fascist Italy. Pinocchio runs away from home and joins a carnival to make money for his papa, is subsequently ill-used by a greedy puppet impresario, gets recruited into a youth brigade and has a few other dazzling metaphysical adventures before becoming a real… (but that would be a spoiler).
The wise (and underused) guide-cricket looks like, well, an insect, and is named Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor). Other voice talent includes Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Ron Perlman, Christoph Waltz and John Turturro.
Minus: there are songs, but not many, and the film even makes a little fun of musicals. Though dark and more than a little scary (kids, okay; little kids, maybe not), this is a life-affirming, great time at the movies, brimming with adventure, surprises, humor and humanity. Easily the best animation of the year. Note: don’t confuse this with two or three other recent Pinocchio flicks. Del Toro even put his name in the title to help you out.
Streaming on Netflix now. (117 min)