“I saw the Disney film when I was very, very young, and it made a huge impression,” Guillermo del Toro said during a panel for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio at Deadline’s Contenders: The Nominees event, where he was joined by director Mark Gustafson. “What sat wrong with me was the idea that you needed to be obedient to be a real boy, and that you needed to be transformed into something you were not to be loved.”
Del Toro’s Netflix adaptation of the Carlo Collodi story takes place in 1930s Italy, during the Fascist reign of Benito Mussolini. In this story, woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley) loses his son Carlo in an aerial bombing and carves Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) from the tree at his son’s grave.
For del Toro and Gustafson, this film could only be made in stop-motion. “Stop-motion screams hand-made and screams hand-carved and painted,” del Toro said. “There is an artisanal beauty to that and there is a magic to seeing these puppets.”
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“You can make a world that’s very homogenous and just feels like it all belongs together,” Gustafson added. “And you can have a character like Pinocchio, who’s such an outlier but he’ll still somehow fit in the visual language of that world.”
The story had a lot of focus on different father-son relationships, but del Toro says the most important relationship for Pinocchio came from an unlikely mother figure. “We constructed the movie on father-son stories, but then the one that actually gives him guidance is the mother figure of Death,” he said.
“She sort of has the healthiest understanding of Pinocchio, out of anyone in the film,” Gustafson said, “whereas Geppetto, his real father, doesn’t and in many ways the story of the whole film is him learning, that’s his journey – how do I love this thing which isn’t what I expected? I prayed for a miracle, I got a miracle but I don’t recognize the miracle.”
“It’s not Pinocchio learning to be a real boy, but Geppetto learning to be a real father,” del Toro said. “The movie could be called The Adventures of Geppetto. We open with him unable to accept a loss and we end up with him in loss, accepting it. It’s a very beautiful journey, accepting the imperfection and the beauty of the son he has it, not the son he wishes he had.”
Check out the panel video above.
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