Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro discusses new Netflix film ‘Pinocchio’
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Shape of Water”) is known for exploring humanity in monster stories.
That dark spirit continues in his latest project, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” which debuted Friday on Netflix.
While cherished mostly as a children’s story, the classic Carlo Collodi tale of the fabled wooden puppet — created by father-figure Gepetto — going on a life-and-death journey seeking to become a real boy is right down the creative director’s metaphorical (nightmare) alley.
Co-directed and co-written by del Toro, “Pinocchio” finds the esteemed director teaming up with award-winning stop-motion legend Mark Gustafson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”) to reimagine “Pinocchio,” which is also (surprise!) a musical.
The animated film features a cast of Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson and Burn Gorman
We recently caught up with del Toro to discuss “Pinocchio,” fascism and the power of choice in one’s life.
Hello, Guillermo. Congrats on the new film. What did “Pinocchio” mean to you growing up?
The Disney “Pinocchio” was the second or third film I saw with my mother. It immediately gave me a sense of it being the only movie that captured how scary childhood was. I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s how it feels to be a child. It was very confusing, it was really full of danger, fraught with turmoil and darkness.’ And then shortly thereafter I was exposed to “Astro Boy” — the tale of the artificial boy created by a father who then sends him out into the world to figure out for himself what is right, what is wrong. It resonated very much like a “Frankenstein” story with me. When I saw “Frankenstein,” I thought they’re basically the same story told by different authors. Very different ideas but similar, complementary.
How early on did you sense your perspective of “Pinocchio” was very different from your peers?
Look, I was made of a different material than most other kids who I shared my childhood with. I was an observer, I was very quiet. I was not a sports child. I was a reader, an indoors guy. So most of my takes on most everything were weird.
The idea of a child being sent into the world to figure it out is simultaneously interesting and disturbing. Can you elaborate on how that concept drives “Pinocchio?”
The journey that you go through is both insignificant on a cosmic level but is very significant in terms of the lives you affect. I think Carlo Collodi also took this as a very symbolic journey. He was very interested in metaphysics and Catholic dogma. He was very interested in having this notion of sacrifice. When I read it and thought about it and tried to articulate my own, which is many years ago, I thought there is an essential, almost initiatic, beauty to each of our journeys. All of us. We are all having a journey for humanity. That’s why the movie ends with the line, “What happens happens?” And then we’re gone. because that’s all we get. We get one go at the merry-go-round, and it’s incredibly important. We’re here to give love to each other or to give grief to each other for a very brief time. Either way, you’re not going to completely change the world but you can change lives. That’s why it’s so beautiful. It’s very interesting for me to think the only wisdom in life is to accept that death makes it worth living. If we didn’t have death to make us hurry and live, we wouldn’t live fully.
Let’s talk about the fascist storyline in “Pinocchio,” which, sadly, is quite relevant in 2022.
I wanted to make a Pinocchio that was counter to most Pinocchios in the sense that we actually say disobedience, rather than obedience, is a virtue. Obedience is not a virtue, and less now than ever, because it comes from fear and negating the self. The other thing that is terrible is we live in a world in order to be accepted you have to simulate, change who you are and go with the flow in many ways. The return of fascism and the idea that obedience is good scarily comes in cycles. It never goes away. Therefore, I was trying to think about a story in which a puppet acts freely while all of the characters act like puppets. If you think about it for a second, fascism is really about fathers and sons. It’s a father figure, a strongman figure that attracts all of the orphan souls of the world. They tend to endear themselves to a strong figure and that’s what makes it seductive. That and the show business aspect of it in which there’s a pageantry to it. That is what makes it dangerous.
While “Pinocchio” isn’t a loop movie, it does find the titular character experiencing the afterlife and rising from the dead. How important is that for the film?
Most of my movies deal with one idea, which is choice. No matter what, most situations in which we think we don’t have a choice, there is a choice to be made. The fact is that choices are what make us humans. Pinocchio becomes a real human when he chooses to go back and die for his father. That is the moment in which he becomes a real boy. Not a magical moment in which is he subjugated by what is right or wrong, it’s the moment where he decides to go back. So traditionally, the death figure in traditional mythology is the one that asks the questions and the one that administers the tests/deaths. I wanted that moment in which the sphynx tells Pinocchio, “You want to do this? You have to do it. It’s not me. You have to do it.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are a few elements of “Pinocchio” that feel like an homage to Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.”
I’d say, if it happened I’d be very proud. It’s one of my favorite Spielberg movies. And I think the melancholy of that movie is tremendous. It was not a choice but I would gladly accept it. Spielberg for me is the master storyteller. There are three narrative giants — Hitchcock, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg.
There are many messages found in Pinocchio. What do you hope viewers take away from the film?
What happens happens, and then we’re gone.