I don’t know if the world was exactly waiting for yet another remake of Pinocchio (the recent Tom Hanks version landed with a thud), but Guillermo del Toro has added his take in a new version called Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (or Pinocchio for short, which is how I’ll be referring to this hereafter). Many filmgoers are familiar with the story from previous incarnations: lonely woodcarver Geppetto creates a little wooden boy (brought to life by a fairy) who proceeds to get into all kinds of mischief as little boys do, leading to a final reckoning and a hopeful ending. (I don’t want to provide too many spoilers for those yet unfamiliar with the Disney classic—or the original Carlo Collodi story).
What del Toro does here is impressive on a technical level, as he has filmed Pinocchio using the time-honored art of stop-motion animation. The effects are visually striking and compelling, even if one has problems with the storytelling content. Pinocchio in this telling is set in Italy during the final days of World War I and later in the 1930s, with the rise of the Fascist party (Mussolini is a character in this one). Geppetto has lost his son in a bombing raid and spends many years mourning his loss while planting a tree in his honor. Cue a Jiminy Cricket equivalent (spiritedly voiced by Euan McGregor, but the character lacks charm), a drunken outburst by Geppetto, an incomplete carving, which is then brought to life by a wood sprite and christened Pinocchio (in this version, the lad is quite unfinished). The problem (for us, for Geppetto) is that Geppetto wants Pinocchio to be like his lost child, while Pinocchio just wants to be Pinocchio. It doesn’t help Pinocchio’s case that he has been granted immortality, for between his penchant for mischief and his puckish (and antagonistic) behavior toward the Fascists (who were never one to enjoy a good joke), there is always a good chance that Pinocchio can find himself killed…which (spoiler alert) happens quite frequently. (I’ll admit that this began to resemble a darker version of Groundhog Day.)
So…what to make of this? The stop-motion animation is a treat, though it skews much darker than anything say, in the Rankin/Bass oeuvre. The music is also fine…except when the characters venture into song. (Just about everyone gets a tine, including Christoph Waltz’s Volpe, a would-be impresario who’s kind of the equivalent of the Fox, and Euan McGregor’s Cricket, who is given a few lackluster tunes). But there’s a bit of tension between the fairy tale format and plunking the wooden lad into a Fascist regime, and the plot developments that occur. (The Fascists vacillate between wanting to kill Pinocchio and using him as a “poster boy” for Fascism.) Try as I might, I found myself caring a lot less about the characters than I wanted, so while Pinocchio is a technical wonder, the emotional power is lacking.
However, I was quite moved by the beautifully done Living. It’s a remake of the Kurosawa classic Ikiru, which was about a bureaucrat facing a terminal illness. This version, directed by Oliver Hermanus with a script from Kazuo Ishiguro is set in early 1950s London and benefits greatly from a strong central performance from Bill Nighy. Nighy’s Mr. Williams shares a house with his son (and his daughter-in-law), while leading a quiet and unfulfilling life in the Public Works department. He and his colleagues wile away the days placing requests in “to do” piles and comparing their output (or lack of it). An early scene in which a group of women want to get the go-ahead a playground for their underprivileged neighborhood—and are then given the runaround by several other agencies, is both exasperating and poignant—and a harbinger of what’s to come. For Nighy has been given a terminal diagnosis (a few months), and after a misguided attempt to live life to the fullest by taking in the night life (followed by some quiet contemplation), he decides to…live. More importantly, he decides to leave some kind of positive mark, aided and abetted by both his current colleagues and a former colleague (a terrific Aimee Lou Wood) who has become both friend and confidante. Living is filled with sharply etched observations of 1950s life, social mores, and the way people choose to both live their lives—and put off living their lives. Nighy is superb throughout in a performance filled with nuance and subtlety, especially as he comes to terms with his life and how he has been perceived by others. The final sections are quite powerful (be prepared to weep a bit, for various reasons) and some of the images, particularly one of Nighy singing on a swing on a wintry evening, will stay with you for some time.
José Ferrer: Success and Survival
Dan Duryea: Heel with a Heart
Published by University Press of Mississippi