Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio Vs. Robert Zemeckis' Pinocchio: What You Need To Know About Both Films

There's a strange thing that happens in Hollywood more often than one might imagine. Two projects get greenlit that aren't just similar, but pull from nearly the same source material. Though this often happens in early stages of projects, like when a wild story suddenly becomes a hot commodity (see: multiple Tiger King shows, two upcoming projects about Chippendales), it's rare that both versions actually end up being born into the world at the same time.

Yet there are times when years of brainstorming, production, and post-production somehow ultimately align, leading to near-simultaneous releases that look intentionally competitive, even if they're not. This is what seems to be happening with "Pinocchio," a classic story that's somehow receiving two very distinct adaptations this fall. While one will debut in September and remake a family film we know and love, the other hits theaters in November and pull inspiration from the darker Italian novel of the same name. Let's dig into the differences to figure out which Pinnochio is right for you.

Two directors take on a classic

The quickest way to differentiate between the two "Pinocchio" films debuting this fall, which have identical titles, is to look to their directors. The Disney version is directed by Robert Zemeckis, while Netflix's take is the animated feature debut of Guillermo del Toro. Zemeckis is best-known for films like "Back to the Future" and "Forrest Gump," but he's also made kids' films like "The Polar Express."

Del Toro, meanwhile, employs a dark fairy tale sensibility to many of his films, which are often about but not exactly for children. He has made some kid-friendly TV, though, specifically the Netflix "Trollhunters" shows. His other films include but aren't limited to "Pan's Labyrinth," "Nightmare Alley," and best picture Oscar winner "The Shape of Water."

Both projects have been in the works for quite a long time, but del Toro's version has been a passion project for decades now. He's been talking about the idea since at least 2008, and development was already underway for the movie as early as 2011. But the long-gestating dream took time to build, and the film got stuck in development hell for years before finally emerging, a real boy at last, for this fall's release.

A Disney remake versus a reimagined novel

While both films are called "Pinocchio," they don't actually pull from the same source material. The Disney version, co-written by Zemeckis and Chris Weitz (2015's "Cinderella"), will be an update of the 1940 Disney classic complete with a new cover of "When You Wish Upon A Star." That film was inspired by Carlo Collodi's 1883 book "The Adventures of Pinocchio," but made it more kid-friendly by a long shot.

The original Disney-fied plot is about an elderly craftsman named Geppetto who makes a puppet named Pinocchio, who's turned into a real boy by the Blue Fairy. From there, Pinocchio goes on adventures with his talking cricket sidekick Jiminy Cricket, joining a puppet show, getting swallowed by a whale, and narrowly avoiding being turned into a donkey. The trailer for the new film shows that Disney's adaptation looks pretty similar to the 1940s classic.

Del Toro's version, meanwhile, is set to dig further into the Collodi story, and feature updates made by the filmmaker and his co-writer Patrick McHale ("Over the Garden Wall"). Collodi's book is a surreal, cyclical story of near-constant misfortune, a cautionary tale about disobedience, naivety, and ultimately transformation thanks to adherence to the status quo. Del Toro noted that his version will question that last part, telling Vanity Fair:

"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."

This version will certainly ask its hero to question his community's commandments: it'll be set in Italy, during the pre-World War II rise of fascism.

Two distinct visual styles

The visual styles between the two movies also couldn't be more different, and based on the trailers that have been released for both films, this may be what ultimately draws audiences to one film or the other, if not both. Disney's version is live-action, but features CGI characters including Pinocchio himself, Jiminy Cricket, Honest John the fox, and more. With its period-specific costumes, musical numbers and performances, and a cheerful tone that seems to celebrate the originality of its outcast hero, the Disney "Pinocchio" trailer reminds me less of a dark fairy tale and more of something like "The Greatest Showman."

The Netflix version of the story, meanwhile, is stop-motion animation, and thus looks a bit more like epic adventures we've seen in that format. Visually, it's much closer to "Kubo and the Two Strings" or "Fantastic Mr. Fox" than it is to any Disney film. Its design reportedly comes from the art of Gris Grimly, who illustrated a 2002 version of the "Pinocchio" book for Tor Books. In Grimly's design, the "real boy" is still clearly wooden, with spindly joints, visible nails, and the whirls and lines of a piece of wood. The first trailer for Del Toro's "Pinocchio" shows this design in action, along with other new-to-screen character interpretations, like the mustachioed blue cricket, and a giant, celestial-looking being that's likely the Turquoise Fairy.

A-list casts abound

If there's a reason to double up on your Pinocchio this fall, it's for the star-studded casts. Both versions of the story include fantastic actors and intriguing casting choices. In Disney's version, Tom Hanks plays Geppetto, while young actor Benjamin Evan Ainsworth ("The Haunting of Bly Manor") is the titular puppet. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Jiminy, Keegan-Michael Key is Honest John, and Cynthia Erivo embodies the Blue Fairy. The supporting cast also includes Lorraine Bracco, Giuseppe Battiston, Luke Evans, Ben Ainsworth.

Netflix's take on the story is led by Ewan McGregor as Sebastian J. Cricket, who Vanity Fair reports is Pinocchio's travel companion who lived in his trunk back when he was a tree. The boy himself is played by child actor Gregory Mann ("Victoria"), while the Turquoise Fairy is embodied by Tilda Swinton. "Stranger Things" star Finn Wolfhard plays Candlewick, David Bradley is Geppetto, and Christoph Waltz and Ron Perlman seem to be taking on the roles of two new characters. Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro will also reportedly appear.

When and where to watch both versions of Pinocchio

If either or both "Pinocchio" adaptations sound like something you'd be into, you're in luck: both will be available soon. The Disney version is debuting on Disney+ on September 8, 2022, as a Disney Day exclusive release. That means the film won't be in theaters, but if you like it, you can watch it as many times as you want from the comfort of your own home beginning that day.

Del Toro's "Pinocchio" will take a slightly longer path to home streaming, albeit one that includes a few opportunities to see it in theaters. The movie will premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in early October, then head to select theaters in November. After that, it'll stream on Netflix starting December 9, 2022. Both of these real boys will follow their long and winding paths to our TV sets this fall, where hopefully, both will entertain and amaze audiences in different ways.