Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio Isn't for Kids—It's for Oscars
In a piece of news no one was expecting to read Monday morning, Netflix announced that it's working on a reboot of the classic children's tale Pinocchio. OK, maybe that part wasn't entirely unforeseen. The story of a wooden puppet boy come to life is widely beloved—of course Netflix would want to make a movie of it. What was needle-scratch surprising was who they'd hired to do it: Guillermo del Toro, the man with a master key to the nightmare factory.
Del Toro is a master of the macabre; his films are all wonderfully crafted things of beauty. They're also very much not kids' stuff, unless sex with fish-men is something you want your kids to learn about at a young age. GDT has always been a kid at heart (look no further than the Rock-'Em-Sock-'Em-Robots action of Pacific Rim for proof of that), but look at the director's filmography and there's nary a children's film to be found. So by hiring him to make a Pinocchio film, Netflix is showing that its children's movies won't just be for children.
That's not to say del Toro can't make something that's strictly for kids. His series for Netflix, Trollhunters, lands squarely in that territory, and his collaborators on the Pinocchio project include the Jim Henson Company and people behind everything from Fantastic Mr. Fox to Corpse Bride. But when you see the movie's description—a stop-motion animated musical set in 1930s Italy (a setting that witnessed the rise of Benito Mussolini)—it's hard to imagine that it'll be all smiles and sunshine.
And it certainly sounds like del Toro's going to … well, del Toro."In our story, Pinocchio is an innocent soul with an uncaring father who gets lost in a world he cannot comprehend," the director said in a statement. "He embarks on an extraordinary journey that leaves him with a deep understanding of his father and the real world."
To be clear, this is a great idea. Not every family wants a steady diet of Frozen or Cars 2, and if del Toro wants to give the stop-motion folks at Laika a run for their dark-but-still-PG money, we're not here to stop him. Moreover, if this signals what Netflix wants to do to stake a claim with regards to its original content for kids, it's a smart play—one that blends an already-established story with the cachet of someone like del Toro.
Besides, that cachet might bring something else: Oscars. Netflix is clearly on a quest to get a little gold man, and hiring the guy who just won Best Picture and Best Director at this year's Academy Awards isn't a bad step in that direction. Netflix hasn't said if it's planning a theatrical run for Pinocchio—something that would be necessary to put it in the awards race—but should it choose to, it might have a shot. It nabbed one Oscar winner when it picked up Alfonso Cuarón's forthcoming Roma; why not another?
That plan looks a lot more explicit when you realize that Melissa Cobb, the DreamWorks alum Netflix hired last year to run its kids and family team, mentioned del Toro's work on Pan's Labyrinth and The Shape of Water. Yes, those are the director's two most-lauded films, but they're also his most critically successful; having won three and four Academy Awards, respectively. They're also both very much rated R, and probably not the first thing you'd bring up when touting the person you just hired to make a movie for 6-year-olds. (Maybe that's just me.)
Motivations aside, Netflix made a bold move offering del Toro what he needed to make his passion project (del Toro claims "no single character in history has had as deep of a personal connection to me as Pinocchio"). He will, no doubt, do wonderfully weird things with the character. Just don't be surprised if the Fox and the Cat are a little creepier than you remember.