Here we go again! No sooner than Disney’s remade their own 1940 classic animated feature film (with less than favorable results), horror-meister Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pans Labyrinth) takes his crack at it, but this time as a stop-motion film. Well, I’ll give him props for making it unique!
Although based on Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel, del Toro spins this particular story in 1930’s fascist Italy and something we’ve never seen before, the backstory of woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley) and his beloved son, Carlo (Gregory Mann), who dies tragically one night. Yeah, this ain’t no kid’s film! Anyway, upset over his death and in a drunken rage, Geppetto carves a marionette puppet and calls it his new ‘son’, while traveling insect writer, Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor) looks on. A mysterious blue Wood Sprite (Tilda Swindon) shows up and gives the puppet, Pinocchio (Mann again) life, scaring the hell outta Geppetto and the rest of the town.
Pinocchio, a mischievous bundle of energy that is curious about everything, is a strain on his papa and rarely listens to his conscience, Sebastian, who is always getting maimed. On his way to school one day, Pinocchio is noticed by Spazzatura (Cate Blanchette talking only in jibbers and jabbers), the scurrilous monkey assistant to heinous carnival owner, Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz). Naturally, Volpe wants that talking puppet for his traveling circus and Pinocchio agrees, singing and dancing for the cheering crowd. Problem is, this is wartime, and local government official Podesta (Ron Perlman), demands that Pinocchio (along with his son, Candlewick) join the Italian children’s army!
Y’see, another special thing about Pinocchio is, he can’t die. After every ‘death’, Pinocchio is sent to the underworld and talks to the Wood Sprite’s sister, Death (Swindon again), who looks like she escaped from del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. There’s no Pleasure Island, no Honest John & Kitty, and Pinocchio never turns into a donkey but at least we get a giant mutated sea bass that swallows Geppetto and son. There is, however, an extended scene of Pinocchio and Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard) having army training at the hands of Podesta, his Mussolini-loving father. No doubt about it, this is not a kid’s film. This is an adult film made by adults for adults. I kid you not, there were children crying in the theater by the end of this movie!
This dark and heart-breaking script is by first-time screenwriter Patrick McHale (TV’s Adventure Time, Over the Garden Wall) and director del Toro (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Shape of Water) and contains stark religious and Nazi overtones, children in peril and getting killed, and the loss of loved ones. I cannot recommend this movie for kids but for film enthusiasts and animation buffs, it’s a cinematic gold mine! The exquisite stop-motion animation is by ShadowMachine (Robot Chicken, Moral Orel) and looks SO freakin’ good, you’d swear it’s CGI and not stop-motion like The Boxtrolls or The Nightmare Before Christmas. This Pinocchio defies all previous cutsie, family-friendly versions and goes for the jugular.
It’s beautiful, fine art, chilling, funny at times, emotional, and even has some decent songs in it, although it’s not a musical. And that ending? Devastating. Ewan McGregor is simply grand as Sebastian, the film’s narrator and mustached cricket. His voice-over delivery is just wonderful, as is Bradley (Geppetto) and Mann (Carlo/Pinocchio). Waltz is always his usual animated (sorry!) self and Perlman is scary. If you go (or see it at home on Netflix), and I do recommend it, leave the little ones at home or have them occupied in another room. This is not for them.
**Now showing in selected theaters. Streams on Netflix beginning December 9th
Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987)
There are SO many movies (about 3000, I think) about Pinocchio, I figured I’d just grab one that looked completely weird and strange. Lo and behold I found this one: a so-called sequel to Pinocchio that was totally off the wall and bizarre. Perfect!
Understand first that the film producers, Filmation, were actually sued by Disney because this movie was too much like their 1940 classic film! Disney lost, but they shouldn’t have worried as this movie bombed exceptionally hard at the box office. After a mysterious carnival pops up in a swamp (because location, location, location, right?), we see it’s Pinocchio’s (voiced by Scott Grimes) birthday! Yup, he’s one-years-old after being made human, but at his party, the Blue. . . sorry, I mean the Good Fairy (Rickie Lee Jones) shows up, sings a song (yeah, this is musical, too), and gives life to Pinocchio’s glow-bug wood carving. She also gives him a cryptic warning; someone could change him back into a puppet! But who? When? Why?
Sorry, no time for answers, Geppetto wants Pinocchio to deliver a fancy jeweled music box to the mayor, but runs afoul of two con-men. . . er, creatures. A talkative raccoon named Sylvester J. Scalawag (Ed Asner) and his silent pickpocket monkey partner, Igor. After they trick Pinocchio into giving them the music box, Geppetto (Tom Bosley) gets pissed later that night about what happened, prompting Pinocchio to go get it back. But the lad instead goes to the sinister carnival and discovers Stromboli’s cousin (?), puppet-master Puppetino (William Windom) and his creation, a cute little girl puppet, Twinkle, that Pinocchio falls for. BUT! Puppetino turns Pinocchio back into a puppet using a mysterious organ grinder box. Good thing Pinocchio’s new conscience, a glow-bug named Willikers (Don Knotts), saves the day and the Good Fairy turns Pinocchio back.
Yeah, but that dumb kid hasn’t learned anything. He gets conned by Scalawag again, gets swallowed up by a Monstro-sized ship, goes to a Pleasure Island-like land, gets drunk off his butt, and then meets the evil, four-armed, glowing-eyed, demon-faced Emperor of the Night (James Earl Jones)! Bwahahaha!! He gives Pinocchio an ultimatum: sign over his freedom or his father will perish, along with his new friends! You can tell that the writers, Robby London, Barry O’Brien, and Dennis O’Flaherty simply copied the same plot & characters from the 1940 movie and then threw in a bizarre and confusing third act. Of course, Disney sued; it’s the same story retold! Only this time, the animation is poor (like a 1980’s Saturday morning cartoon) and the dialogue is oh-so bad.
And then there’s the crazy stuff. Not relying on just copycatting the 1940 plot with characters and places, the writers and director Hal Sutherland decided to spice things up with dark, disturbing, scary, and wildly twisted scenes that really don’t belong in a children’s movie. You see Pinocchio being turned back into a puppet that is almost sadistic, and the “Neon Cabaret” (Pleasure Island) where images of Pinocchio getting wasted are like some bad LSD trip. Then, of course, is the whole demonic ending with Emperor! Needless to say, this was a critical and financial disaster. Still, if you are into creepy, weird, strange, and twisted versions of established IP’s, I say go for it!