Pinocchio Footage Reaction: Guillermo Del Toro Delivers A Darker, Personal Take On A Timeless Tale [Annecy]

When Guillermo del Toro takes the stage, you know you're in for something special. The Oscar-winning director got a rockstar's welcome at the end of the Netflix Animation showcase at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, with a standing ovation to boot.

Introducing footage from his animated directorial debut, "Pinocchio," del Toro talked about his love of animation, and how he particularly felt in love with stop-motion, "a form of animation perpetually on the brink of extinction," as he described it.

While the joke got a few laughs, nothing in the entire 90-minute showcase got as loud a reaction as when del Toro talked about the future of animation, and how "this is the decade when we drive home the mantra that animation is film." And in case anyone from the Academy was listening, del Toro had something else to say. "Animation is not a f****** genre!" the acclaimed director said to thunderous applause.

A dark fantasy

The first footage shown was a clip from early in the film, more specifically the first meeting between David Bradley's Geppetto and Gregory Mann's Pinocchio. The scene shows the old woodcarver waking up absolutely wasted, with an empty bottle in his hand. As he struggles to get up, he stumbles to his desk and sees a broken photograph of a young boy, his son Carlo.

When he hears a noise from the attic, Geppetto goes to investigate, and comes face-to-face with a wooden boy. But this is not the cute, smooth puppet of the Disney film. Instead, it is a tall, rough creature with plenty of imperfections, rogue branches, and patches of wood that aren't sanded. If having the wooden creature say "You asked for me to live; I am your son!" to the old man wasn't enough, the purple bug next to the boy startles Geppetto, making him fall off the stairs to the floor below.

The audience at Annecy was then shown the first proper trailer for "Pinocchio," which is narrated by Ewan McGregor's Sebastian J. Cricket, who says he's lived for so long he's heard all kinds of stories, particularly those of "imperfect fathers and imperfect sons." We see flashes of Geppetto carving up Pinocchio, the boy escaping to the circus, the blue wood spirit that gives Pinocchio live, and a brief glimpse at that iconic whale.

Let's show the mistakes

It was clear from both the footage and del Toro's introduction that "Pinocchio" is meant to be both a unique take on the classic story, and also a different kind of animated movie.

According to del Toro, one of his first instructions when production began was to avoid key posing (frames meant to help animators know the important movements in a sequence) and to highlight the handmade aspect of stop-motion. This meant not hiding mistakes, and to make sure the characters made mistakes, that their ticks, sweat, impulses are shown, in order to bring forth the acting in the puppets.

From the short footage shown at the showcase, del Toro, his co-director Mark Gustafson, and the animators at Shadow Machine succeeded. It has taken del Toro 15 years to get this movie made, but the wait has definitely been worth it. The footage looks breathtaking, with incredible attention to detail and the subtlest of body movements, camera movement and framing that feels more like live-action, with the kind of intimate yet universal approach del Toro is known for. 

After the footage, del Toro took the stage again to talk about his take on "Pinocchio," and how he wanted to combine the classic tale with another one of his favorite stories: "Frankenstein." You can clearly see the result in the footage, even if it's brief.This Pinocchio is more primordial, uglier, more naturalistic and makeshift, the clear result of a grieving man. According to del Toro, he felt that both Pinocchio and Frankenstein are tales about children thrown into the world with a blank slate, learning about who they are as humans, and struggling to please their fathers.

Disney may be trying to painstakingly replicate the look and feel of an 82-year-old movie, but in just a minute or so, del Toro showed why pantomime and recreation are the wrong way to keep classic stories alive. The Oscar-winner brings the classic tale to a much darker place than audiences know, while still infusing the story with his trademark love for misunderstood creatures. Get ready to fall in love with Pinocchio all over again.

"Pinocchio" is set to arrive on Netflix in December 2022.