Guillermo del Toro transforms Carlo Collodi’s 1883 morality tale into something completely different. It’s not really an adaptation, more of an original story sparked off by the tale of Pinocchio. A very dark fairytale which explores the traumatic effect of war, this film has some similarities with Pan’s Labyrinth.
I don’t think there’s any point in reeling off a list of differences, because there are just too many. If you’re looking for faithfulness to the book (which is admittedly not a pleasant read anyhow) or a sanitised Disney-ish version (after all, there are songs in it) you’ll be disappointed either way. Although the craftsmanship is wonderful and the appearance is visually interesting, I feel there is not enough magic in the film. And if that’s how I feel, how is a child expecting magic going to feel? Guillermo del Toro said that he wanted more realism in this film. Fair enough, it’s his project. However, I think that this film is intended more for adults, demonstrated by the religious and political content.
The most significant change in this version – out of many drastic alterations – is the essential nature of Pinocchio’s character and how that gives meaning to the story. Collodi’s book, which I’ve recently read, is basically a warning to boys that they must obey their fathers and study hard. Pinocchio repeatedly disobeys Geppetto and is constantly led into temptation – disregarding the ghost of the cricket he killed, who tries to make him see sense – only towards the end learning his lesson and being willing to provide for his father, becomes a real boy. Del Toro’s Pinocchio character, by contrast, is not very naughty at all and when he disobeys the authorities, he does so with good intentions (such as earning money for Geppetto) or in the interests of democracy (sabotaging the puppet master’s show for Mussolini). He’s kinder to the cricket, too, keeping the wise creature in a hole in his wooden chest where a heart would be. So he’s certainly a likeable character. The message of the story then becomes one of standing up to evil, that you should question everything and that it’s good to disobey the authorities, as they’re not always right just because they’re more powerful.
As an adaptation of the book, it’s poor. As an inventive reimagining, very accomplished.
Low-resolution image sourced from Wikipedia.