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“Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio” in the cinema: The wooden doll and the Duce

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A pine cone is the last thing a father has from his son. The boy picked him up in the surrounding mountains. The year was 1916. The wood carver Geppetto and his son Carlo lived in a small village and were working together on a crucifix in the local church when the war reached them too. An aerial bomb hits the church and kills the son. The father breaks at the loss. Time passes, the church murals seamlessly give way to fascist slogans for Thanksgiving; but Geppetto cannot get over the loss of his son. In his pain, he begins carving a doll out of pinewood in memory of Carlo.

The talking wooden doll arouses dark desires

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As early as 2008, the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro announced that he wanted to make Carlo Collodi’s classic children’s book his project. Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio was created with animation director Mark Gustafson on behalf of Netflix. Together they have decisively changed the story of the wooden doll, which is brought to life by a forest spirit. Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio begins after the end of World War I, when fascism was gaining strength in Italy.

The difficult to train Pinocchio (Italian for pine eye) attracts the attention of the village authorities, the priest and the fascist mayor: he is to be disciplined. The theater owner Graf Volpe, on the other hand, senses in the talking puppet an attraction for his show, which has seen better days. And while Geppetto desperately follows his foster son through Italy, Pinocchio becomes the star of a puppet show that glorifies Mussolini.

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Compared to other recent adaptations – Robert Zemecki’s Disney film, Matteo Garrone’s interpretation of 2019 – del Toro’s “Pinocchio” seems significantly darker. Fascism and war, but also the creatures that repeatedly delay Geppetto’s search for Pinocchio, testify to del Toro’s penchant for the macabre. In this respect, the film is also a return to the tone of the original. From today’s perspective, Collodi’s book is surprisingly brutal.

In the confrontation between mountains and fascism, the film is also reminiscent of “Pan’s Labyrinth”, del Toro’s abysmal fairy tale about the time of Francoism. The village priest is a submissive opportunist, the fascist mayor indulges in a fanatical masculinism and militarism that doesn’t even stop at his own son Candlewick. However, the parable of fascism also drifts unpleasantly into the cliché, especially in the scenes with Mussolini. At del Toro, he’s a short, fat buffo fascist, continuing a tradition that stretches back to Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

The image of Italy in the character Volpes is more complex. The Count is one of the characters reinvented in the film – a fusion of the grumpy theater owner Mangiafuoco and the devious fox from the original. Puppet theater has a long tradition in southern Italy, especially in Sicily. In the character of the greedy puppet theater director, the film exaggerates the resentful conflict between the rich north and the poor south, which was already hinted at in Collodi.

(In the Berlin cinemas b-ware! Ladenkino, Babylon Kreuzberg, Hackesche Höfe, Intimes, Wolf (all original subtitles). From December 9th on Netflix)

Particularly noteworthy are the animations by del Toro and his co-director Gustafson, a mixture of stop-motion and 3D techniques. This is most evident in Pinocchio himself. The puppet’s body has a beautiful wooden texture, the movements are mechanical, while the eyes and lids are animated in 3D. A successful calling card for the previously less well-known studio ShadowMachine. While it’s common for many big films these days to outsource animation to low-wage countries, judging by the credits, Pinocchio sounds surprisingly American.

Despite its minor weaknesses, “Guillermo del Toros Pinocchio” is fantastic in the truest sense of the word. Against the backdrop of fascism and war, the film unleashes an animated spectacle about a hopelessly naïve wooden puppet who discovers the world. The film purges the plot of Collodi’s pedagogy and every Disney sweetness and thus not only restores the abyss of the original, but also savors it visually. Fabian Tieke

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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