Guillermo Del Toro Wants Pinocchio To Inspire Two Important Conversations

Guillermo del Toro's latest film is a beautiful, emotionally resonant stop-motion animation adaptation of the classic children's tale "Pinocchio," but fans expecting a fluffy, frolic-filled romp like its predecessors are sure to be disappointed. "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio," now streaming on Netflix, is set in Italy during the rise of fascism circa World War II, and it's a much darker take on the material than we've seen before. The frightening imagery and disturbing story beats mean that some children will find this "Pinocchio" to be too much to bear, but del Toro believes that a more mature story opens up the door for two very important conversations. 

In an interview with TheWrap, the director explained that not only does he believe the content in the movie is fine for audiences of all ages, as long as the adults are willing to have some tough conversations with the children, but that the darker tonal elements should also help open up the door for people to stop thinking of animation as a children's genre. Del Toro's dark cinematic fairy tales have been almost entirely for adults, but with "Pinocchio," he sought to tell a dramatic animated story for everyone.

'That is the crux of animation.'

While del Toro knows that some audiences might find an animated Pinocchio tale that deals directly with fascism, grief, and death to be too adult, he believes that a part of the hesitance to accept the mature story is because of the medium used to tell it:

"Listen, that is a crux of animation. That is something that animation has to claim for itself: the right to be a medium and not a genre."

Because animation was frequently only used for American children's entertainment for decades, many people assume that if something is animated, then it's probably for kids. While this weird misconception is mostly gone from TV thanks to shows like "The Simpsons," "South Park," and "Family Guy," many adults still think that animated movies are for children only. They're wrong, of course, because there have been some incredible animated features for adults, like the work of the great Ralph Bakshi, the Academy Award-winning shorts of Alberto Mielgo, and many more. Animation is simply a tool for storytelling that transcends genre, as it can bring literally any idea to life with some hard work and a little skill. Whether it's fantasy, science-fiction, or even simple comedies or dramas, animation can be used to do just about anything. 

A balance of darkness and light

In using stop-motion animation that's family-friendly but a little darker than what people are used to, del Toro knows he struck some nerves. The movie deals with heavy topics that some parents are uncomfortable discussing with their children, but the director believes that they are necessary conversations that are going to come up sooner or later anyway:

" [...] there is absolutely nothing in this movie that is unacceptable for an audience to watch in family environments. It's a movie that is going to prompt questions, but there is no more darkness in this film than in the classical Disney films. You need darkness to render light. In the most susceptible cases, it will need dialogue to talk about life and death and so forth."

Some of these conversations can be tough to have with children, but he's absolutely right about both not sheltering them too much and the presence of incredibly dark content in other children's classics. Almost everyone has some kind of animated kindertrauma, whether it was watching Pinocchio get turned into a donkey in the original Disney animated version, seeing Charlie B. Barkin get eaten by demons in "All Dogs Go to Heaven," or even just hearing the booming horns of the pink elephants on parade in "Dumbo." Children's tales have always had a dark edge, but del Toro doesn't try to soften those edges or hide them from young audiences because he knows they can handle and appreciate it. 

Trusting kids with the truth

Del Toro's gut instincts to tell a story that was a little darker but stayed true to his vision worked out in the end, as children at screenings appreciated the story of the little wooden boy who came to life and stood up to a dictator. The filmmaker recalled:

" [...] I feel extremely happy to say that the many times we have seen it with an audience, kids seem to react with great curiosity and love. I think this movie is full of truth and love and forgiveness. There are more dangerous things in shampoo commercials than in this film. We're speaking our truth and showing a beautiful story."

While I'm now extremely curious about the kinds of shampoo commercials that Mr. del Toro is watching, he's once more on the money when it comes to how kids comprehend more mature ideas. The movie has some extremely dark moments, but in the end is a triumphant tale about the importance of living life to the fullest with the ones we love. Between "Pinocchio" and Henry Selick's "Wendell & Wild," 2022 is one incredible year for stop-motion stories that are just a bit off the beaten path. Here's hoping that creators like del Toro continue to push the boundaries of the medium and expand everyone's imaginations, one movie at a time.