Guillermo del Toro Says Animated Films Deserve a Chance for Best Picture: “The Craft is Incredibly Complex” +2023

At Guillermo del Toro Pinocchiowho started streaming Netflix today, Gepetto isn’t a kind old Italian played by Hollywood’s favorite kind old man actor (like Tom Hanks in the recent Disney live-action remake directed by Robert Zemeckis). He is a grumpy old drunk grieving the devastating loss of his child. And while there’s a lot of magic, there’s no “happy” ending where Pinocchio is magically transformed into a human boy.

“Geppetto becomes a real father, unlike Pinocchio, who becomes a real boy,‘ del Toro told Decider in a recent Zoom interview.

The Oscar-winning director known for his dark, weird, and beautiful monstrosities in films Pan’s Labyrinth and the shape of the water, transformed one of his favorite childhood stories into a carefully crafted stop-motion masterpiece. With hundreds of dolls with flexible silicone skin, del Toro and his small army of animators and puppeteers shot simultaneously on 60 stages, 60 cameras and 60 sets. Pinocchio’s design itself bears none of the bright, primary-colored hat-and-suspender-shorts look that the 1940 Disney film made ubiquitous. Instead, del Toro drew inspiration from a 2002 edition of Carlo Collodi’s original 1883 novel. The Adventures of Pinocchiowhich featured illustrations by award-winning artist Gris Grimly, depicting the doll as scrawny and angular with unpainted natural wood grains.

“With a few gestures, Gris captured the elemental nature of the character in a way I had never seen before,” del Toro said in an interview for the film’s press notes. From there, del Toro (along with his co-director Mark Gustafson and co-writer Patrick McHale) spun a magical but distinctly un-Disney-esque tale of parenting, grief, life, death and war. The filmmaker spoke to Decider about the film’s portrayal of parenthood, his hopes for a Best Picture nomination, and why he has no interest in the new AI art trend.

Guillermo del Toro behind the scenes of Pinocchio
Photo: Jason Schmidt/NETFLIX

Decider: Disney’s Pinocchio Movies have always portrayed Geppetto as the nicest old Italian in the world. But your Geppetto has an advantage – his grief is ugly and he drinks. Tell me about this election.

Guillermo Del Toro: There’s a moment where the cricket says, “I’ve been thinking about imperfect fathers and imperfect sons.” I think the film thinks about that. No human is perfect, nor should a human be perfect. And loving imperfection is a path to almost grace. Geppetto learns to love Pinocchio with everything he considers imperfection. Geppetto turns into a real father, unlike Pinocchio, who turns into a real boy. This journey has to start for him in a very, very dark place, which is his drinking. He hates himself, he feels guilty, he has short tempers. He can’t stand a kid asking questions every two seconds, you know? He’s praying for a miracle. And then when he experiences the miracle, he doesn’t recognize it as a miracle because he imagined a perfect son in the child he lost. But I think it was necessary for this trip to be valid. To start in a place where Geppetto is not a holy character.

You said you always knew that Pinocchio wouldn’t turn into a human boy at the end of the film. Why was it important to you to have this ending?

I remember seeing a drawing of Gris Grimly eInitially when we started talking about it around 2003 where Pinocchio is looking at himself in the mirror and the reflection is a real boy but he hasn’t changed. And I thought, “This is the end.” Why would you switch? If someone tells you they love you and the same person tells you they want you to change, they don’t love you. And that’s the end of the argument: love her or leave her alone. When you are a father and son, that relationship can get very, very strained because parents often think they are there to raise and teach the children. In reality, children are here to rescue their parents and teach them a little grace. A child is born perfect. And it is the inkwell and the stains you put in it, which you then add to later, and which are thrown back at you in the form of questioning and disobedience that is necessary. That was the thing, not just on a family level, but on a social level – disobedience in film is a virtue.

To put it more simply, you have some fun Easter eggs for Guillermo del Toro fans in this film, references to your previous films. Is there one that you’re particularly proud of or that you hope audiences will notice?

It’s not Easter eggs so much as I think that if you’re watching Pan’s maze, spine of the devil, and Pinocchio, you will see how they are three siblings of the same kind of story. Easter eggs were laid there. In the stained glass windows in the church, there’s the faun, there’s that Pale manand there is the bomb from backbone of the devil. A sequence chronicling the fall of a bomb is a quote from it backbone of the devil. This is reminiscent of the conversation between two children in a long corridor full of beds backbone of the devil. There are gestures made by the fascist officer [in Pinocchio] has identical to the captain Pan’s Labyrinth. And so on. It’s full of those things.

Animated films are typically relegated to the animation category at awards shows like the Oscars, but you hope Pinocchio is nominated for best film. What would that mean for you and animation as a whole? And why do you think your academy peers are reluctant to put animation on the same pedestal as live-action?

See, I really don’t dream or hope that the change has to happen this year. It can happen next year and this decade. The discussion is very simple: is this one of the top 10 movies I’ve seen this year? If the answer is yes, enter it there. And the answer is no, don’t put it there. It’s very easy. The craft is incredibly complex. Stop motion animation is certainly very analogous to live action. They have real cinematography, real props, real sets and real wardrobe – but everything is miniaturized. And everything happens at 24 frames per second. It reminds me of what Ginger Rogers said about Fred Astaire: “I’ll do what you do but backwards in heels.”

We’ve had films every year that are great – whether it is The Red Turtle, Spirited Away, and certainly to me, Toy Story 3-These are incredibly well made films that go far beyond babysitting films that you make for your kids just to keep them quiet. In that arena when we pitched Pinocchio, they would say “Is it for kids?” And I would say: “This is not for children. But kids can watch it when their parents talk to them.”

Do you think there should be an animation category at the Oscars at all?

I think so. Look, I think we can have different kinds of animations. It’s not about unifying it into one thing. So, yes, there’s a valid argument that one could compete in the same way one can have with cinematography or production design: this is the best animated film and this is one of the best pictures. This is part of the same and two different conversations.

My final question: This film is a meticulous work of art. Right now, art using artificial intelligence is in the spotlight to ban artists from the process, often without their permission. Did you follow it at all and how do you feel about it?

I think art is an expression of the soul. At best, it encompasses everything you are. That’s why I consume and love man-made art. I am completely touched by this. I’m not interested in machine-made illustration and extrapolation of information. I spoke to Dave Makin who is a great artist. And he told me his biggest hope is that AI can’t draw. It can interpolate information, but it cannot draw. It can never capture a feeling or a facial expression or the softness of a human face, you know? If this conversation were to be about film, it would certainly hurt deeply. I would think so how [Hayao] Miyazaki says“an insult to life itself.”

Leave a Comment