Pinocchio ~ A Review

(special to The Dreher Report)

By Michael Burton

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a masterpiece. (Spoiler alert if you have not seen it yet). Geppetto and his son Carlo are developed in heartfelt detail within the opening 15 minutes. As a consequence, Carlo’s death (which you know is coming) leaves you feeling empty.

Geppetto goes down a dark road of drinking and self-loathing. He quits working and, in a drunken stupor, cuts down Carlo’s memorial tree to make a puppet. It all happens deep in the night while he’s completely shit-faced. A life-long mastery of woodcraft is blurred by alcohol yet it is obvious he can handle a chisel and block plane. It is not until morning, after Pinocchio is brought to life, that you see how freakishly assembled he is. It is shocking at first.

Voiced by a wonderful actor (Gregory Mann), Pinocchio quickly overcomes awkward social queues, falls in with a loathsome puppeteer named Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz), and becomes a beloved performer. You fall in love with him too.

Then he dies.

Throughout the film, Pinocchio ventures back and forth between the afterlife. Each time he encounters four black rabbits who look like the bunny in Donnie Darko. He learns the rules of eternal life from Death (Tilda Swinton) who is scary at first. She embodies Greco Roman, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian Gods all mixed together.

The narrative becomes a proto-Grecian myth as Death explains things patiently to Pinocchio. Each time he dies (whether by vehicle, bullet, or sea-mine) he learns that he has agency in life and he can learn from his mistakes. He learns of deeper more troubling problems too, privy only to those who live forever.

Pinocchio cost $35 million to produce. Once you see the quality of stop-motion animation you might guess why. This is by far one of the best stop-motion films.

Check out this interview with the character designers, animator, and production designer

Michael Burton is a digital artist, film director, and animation producer. Burton combines art, film, and animation to create historically based stories. He has produced several hybrid-animation shorts including Gold Slipper by Willa Cather (2020), Anna (2018), and Freedom Stories (2022). Burton produced and animated the feature film The Bell Affair (2022). Burton’s digital artwork has been featured across the country and in solo exhibitions at the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud, Nebraska, the Denver Art Museum, RISD Art Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, Digital Graffiti in Alys Beach, Florida, and the Sheldon Art Museum. 

He is currently the director of the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery and an Assistant Professor of Foundation Art and Design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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