The Plot Of Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio Is Much Darker Than The Disney Version

There are two "Pinocchio" movies coming to streaming later this year, but they are very different beasts. It should come as no surprise that the stop-motion animated, Guillermo del Toro-directed "Pinocchio" coming to Netflix this December is significantly darker than the live-action Disney adaptation coming to Disney+ in September, but the director has confirmed just how different the two versions will be. In an interview with Vanity Fair, del Toro shared the details of his upcoming film, including some changes to the plot that will diverge significantly from the story audiences remember. 

We already knew from the teaser released earlier this year that the look of del Toro's "Pinocchio" was going to be totally unique, but now we know that the story will be as well. Del Toro has a way with fairy tales and fables, making them palatable for adults in intense and thought-provoking ways, and I can't wait to see what he does with the story of a wooden boy who wants to be made real. 

Taking the story's own history into context

Del Toro's "Pinocchio" will be set in Italy between the world wars, when fascism began to rise in the nation under the authoritarian dictator Mussolini. The animated Disney version of "Pinocchio" that many of us know and love debuted in theaters in 1940, in the early years of World War II, which makes the setting especially interesting.

The original "Pinocchio" story was written by satirist Carlo Collodi and published in an Italian magazine in 1881, and was used by a newly-formed Italian nation as a tale of how anyone could forge themselves into the version of themselves they wanted to be. Instead of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," they looked to the little wooden doll who became a real boy, and learned from the many morality tales within his stories. These were later collected into a book that became "Pinocchio" as we know it. By setting the film in an authoritarian Italy, del Toro is returning the story to its roots twofold in order to teach a different lesson:

"It's counter to the book, because the book is seeking the domestication of the child's spirit in a strange way. It's a book full of great invention, but it's also in favor of obeying your parents and being 'a good boy' and all that. This [movie] is about finding yourself, and finding your way in the world—not just obeying the commandments that are given to you, but figuring out when they are okay or not. Many times the fable has seemed, to me, in favor of obedience and domestication of the soul. Blind obedience is not a virtue. The virtue Pinocchio has is to disobey. At a time when everybody else behaves as a puppet—he doesn't. Those are the interesting things, for me. I don't want to retell the same story. I want to tell it my way and in the way I understand the world."

Fascism as the ultimate evil

This isn't the director's first foray into telling a tale about the horrors of fascism. In his 2004 film "Hellboy," the greatest threat to humanity isn't some demonic force, but Nazis and neo-Nazis. In his 2006 Oscar-winning masterpiece "Pan's Labyrinth," a young girl (Ivana Baquero) escapes into a fairy tale world in order to deal with the terrors of living through an authoritarian regime in Spain just after World War II. Del Toro's work has always been anti-fascist and used fairy tale imagery to appeal to the child within us while still telling hard, adult truths about the world.

Del Toro explains that Pinocchio first comes to life "in an environment in which citizens behave with obedient, almost puppet-like faithfulness," which makes for an interesting comparison to the actual puppet. He also removed the Pleasure Island element of the story, where Pinocchio and some of the other boys are turned into donkeys after they engage in debauchery, drinking, and smoking like adults. 

Instead, Pinocchio is sought out by the government, who realize the potential for making a wooden boy into a weapon:

"He is recruited into the village military camp, because the fascist official in town thinks if this puppet cannot die, it would make the perfect soldier."

That's a fate much more terrifying than being turned into a donkey, if I'm being honest, and it's a timely and important lesson. Del Toro is turning the tables on this classic tale, and it should make for an incredible experience. "Pinocchio" is set to arrive on Netflix in December 2022.