By JOHN CARTER JR.
From the moment we are born, there is one set of people that we expect will love us with no strings attached. A pair to love us unconditionally, one that sees their own creation and loves them completely regardless of what we are.
Parents should be the one set of people we can count on for love, or at the very least, that is what we are taught. How could anyone be blamed for that expectation?
Everyone wants a mother and father who love the, but some aren’t so fortunate. For some, it takes their children to teach them just what unconditional love is. Is it possible to relearn these feelings, even in a heart that has completely been shattered, disregarded or forgotten? Is it possible for a boy who has never received these feelings to give them to someone who needs it?
Released in December of last year, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is among the best films in the legendary Mexican director’s filmography along with Pan’s Labyrinth and El Espinazo del Diablo. The film stars Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Ron Pearlman, Christoph Waltz and Tilda Swinton. The film was written by Guillermo del Toro himself, along with Patrick McHale, creator of Cartoon Network’s Over The Garden Wall.
The musical tale is set in World War II fascist Italy. The catalyst of the wooden boy’s story is the death of master carpenter Geppetto’s son Carlo during a bombing. The artisan, in a drunken rage, chops down a tree he planted in his son’s honor and used the fallen pine to create a new son in an attempt to remake the original. Through a session of drunk carving, an appearance of the Wood Sprite and some magic spell, a boy is born. A real genuine boy was born and his journey to acceptance was just about to begin.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is the journey a child takes in an attempt to become the boy his father always wanted, the one he lost. He does this because he loves his father and doesn’t want to be a burden to him. From the beginning, the innocent little boy looks to his father with complete love and acceptance, but his papa doesn’t feel the same way. For many people, the circumstances surrounding our birth or the traits we acquire that we have no control over are held against them. Pinocchio could be seen as a trans, gay or race allegory in this way.
Often we see real-life stories of people not being accepted by their families because of who they are. Homophobic, racist and transphobic relatives are far too common. Often in these situations of prejudice, the child internalizes the hate they receive. They even begin to hate themselves without even thinking this way of thinking is wrong and rather something is wrong with them. Like with those closeted kids or those of minority backgrounds, there is nothing wrong with Pinocchio. Pinocchio wants love and acceptance, but more than that, he wants his father to be happy. He doesn’t want to make his father any more sad than he already is; however, after trying to be something he is not he quickly realizes being himself is the only way he can truly live.
The film teaches us that throughout the many trials and tribulations we endure, it is being ourselves unabashedly that allows us to survive and thrive. Being ourselves inspires others to be themselves. Yes, even a wooden boy with no strings should be afforded that same ability. It harkens back to a quote said by Sebastian the Cricket at the beginning and end of the film:
“Try your best, because that’s the best anyone can do”
The film is heavily influenced by the themes of life and death. These ideas only further support the narrative of being yourself without the influence of what others think you should be. We only have one life. It would be a great shame if we went on living it and never once felt like we could be our true selves. The film teaches us that regardless of the love we are trying to receive, never sacrifice who you are in the process of getting it.
Love is not worth having if you have to try and change yourself or force an impossible change. It is the love from people who truly see us and accept us for who we are that is worth having. For some it takes a long time and a journey to see the great person they have in their life. It takes a long time to see that the one who needs to change is themselves. Geppetto is that person; it takes understanding that he has Pinocchio, not Carlo. The child he has is perfect as he is, with all his flaws and shining qualities. There is nothing wrong with you being exactly who you are. It teaches us if you can’t love and accept your kids exactly for who they are, don’t have children.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is one of the director’s best films yet. It is a beautiful labor of love and its craftsmanship shows in every little detail. The puppet and world design is more than a beautiful spectacle but shows the dedication the artists working on the project have to their craft. It is the best version of the Pinocchio story in film.
The film teaches us through the concepts of life and death that it would be a waste of precious time to be something we are not. It is a love letter to all those who have felt they had to conceal a part of themselves in order to gain the love of people, parents or otherwise.
In the end, however, it was that unaccepting parent who realized he was the one who needed to change, that he was wrong to expect his child to accomplish the impossible task of changing who he is.
Fred Rogers said on many occasions, “People can like you exactly as you are.” This film teaches us even more than that. People can love you exactly as you are, no strings attached.
I give Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio a 10/10 for its excellent message, its perfect execution of the stop-motion handcrafted medium and its lovely music.