Viewers planning to watch Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio on Netflix or in theaters need to get one thing straight: This isn’t the Disney classic audiences are used to.
Pinocchio sets itself apart from the original 1940 film through its narrative, which provides a commentary on religion and growing up. Undertones of these themes were present in the original film, but del Toro makes these topics the focal point of his movie.
Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) and his father, woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley), live in a small Italian village under the reign of Benito Mussolini. The father and son are Christians, and Geppetto spends much of his life trying to build a crucifix for the local town church.
The parallels between Pinocchio and Jesus Christ are explicitly clear. Both were born out of miracles and have carpenters as fathers. Pinocchio has the ability to resurrect himself, much like Jesus does. The film features a recurring motif of a cross.
The difference between the two is that Pinocchio doesn’t know right from wrong, whereas, according to the Bible, Jesus never committed a sin during his life on Earth. Pinocchio has narrator Sebastian J. Cricket (Ewan McGregor)—a spin on the original film’s Jiminy Cricket—to help him along the way, but Pinocchio’s innocence and impressionability sets him apart from Jesus.
This distinction emphasizes the significance of the childhood experience and childlike wonder. Pinocchio’s divine trait is his pure heart, and it’s often used against him in the film. As he continues to face one hardship after another, his childlike qualities endure.
In his short lifetime, Pinocchio serves as a servant in a circus to help solve Geppetto’s financial woes. He goes to war for Italy as “the perfect soldier” because of his ability to resurrect himself, but during his time at war, he witnesses mass destruction and violence. During this time, Pinocchio makes honest mistakes—as any child would—and it leads him down a path of loss and trauma.
Del Toro uses animation to add to his thematic commentary on the consequences of growing up too quickly. The bygone art of stop-motion animation beautifully captures Pinocchio’s feelings: It allows the intricate carvings in Pinocchio’s wooden figure to reveal a range of emotions, from joy to grief to desperation.
Lighting also plays a key role in the film. Adults in Pinocchio’s life—such as the circus leader, the military officer, and the priest from the local church—are often surrounded by a red aura. Their intentions with Pinocchio are always clouded and unclear, and the red lighting is an indication to the audience that adults disregard the sanctity of childhood in favor of their personal ambitions.
The only adult who avoids the red aura is Geppetto. It’s a nice nod to the importance of family in a child’s life and how, despite the increasing trauma in Pinocchio’s life, he stays rooted to his innocence because of his family. When Pinocchio and Geppetto reunite by the movie’s end, it is clear that the father-son relationship saved both Pinocchio and Geppetto from much darker fates of ending up alone.