Guillermo del Toro: “I have always wanted to make Pinocchio”
For Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, having made Pinocchio is a dream now achieved since he began thinking of his own version of the story 15 years ago.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a new version of Carlo Collodi’s classic tale, told with stop-motion animation techniques.
It is the story that most defines del Toro’s life, as the Best Director winner of the Golden Globe for The Shape of Water (2018), recalled during a virtual press conference organized by Netflix. A select group of journalists interviewed him about the production that was conducted in studios in Guadalajara, London, and Portland.
Guillermo was alongside filmmaker Mark Gustafson, with whom he co-directed this project. Del Toro is also the producer and screenwriter of the story.
I wanted this film to have the expressiveness and material nature of hand-made animation, and beautiful craftsmanship in carving, painting, and sculpture but with the sophistication of movement achieved after the research about puppet making.
We used different sizes of puppets for different needs. For example, to make the right size for the interaction between Pinocchio and the cricket. We needed the cricket on Pinocchio’s shoulder, talking in his ear, so we used a large Pinocchio and a small cricket. In certain shots, we used a small Pinocchio.
What did it mean for you to get involved in the world of Pinocchio?
Pinocchio is a story that has lived for centuries, a fable that is very close to my heart. And we are sure that this incarnation is particularly beautiful. The two fables that define my life as a child and adolescent are Pinocchio and Frankenstein.
Pinocchio can tell you or talk about the relationship I had with my dad. It puts you into this world that one barely understands and which you try to understand as you grow older. It’s definitely a dad-and-son relationship and the stories they have to deal with.
But I always thought that Pinocchio is the accumulation of characters. I think there are ten characters in the history of human narratives that are universal and can fit anything like Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Tarzan, and Sherlock Holmes. These are characters that, even if you haven’t read their stories, you know about them, or at least make you think you know.
And you can use them as metaphors for science, for human emotions, for many, many things.
How did this adventure start?
I am 58 years old. When I started this process, it was 15 or so years ago. I thought it was a great tool to talk about how beautiful and fragile we are as humans and how much we need each other.
I also wanted to find a way to tell the story in a new way. Mark came up with the idea. It’s a story you think you know but you really don’t.
I am aware that the only thing you do in this world is leave something behind for others to continue. The rest is irrelevant. But if you did something a little bit better and it continues after you, it’s unbelievably beautiful.
So, this movie, for me, its final lines are a summary of what I understand what life is. Now it’s my turn to realize that totalitarian thinking is so suffocating and that we have each other, so briefly, in time.
You can choose between fear and love along the way. We live in that moment when you look at something fantastic and you immediately think, it was made on the computer. We wanted to recover that old world in craftsmanship, art, sizes, and logistics.
How different is this version of Pinocchio from the others?
First of all, I want to say that every Pinocchio story is about obedience and ours is about disobedience as the main factor in trying to become human. It is not about changing yourself for others but about pure understanding.
For me, the first step towards consciousness and the soul is disobedience. It is the difference between ideas and ideology.
What do Gris Grimly’s (the pen name of American designer Steven Soenksen) images have to do with your creations?
I met Gris many years ago and found out that he was writing a Pinocchio book. I’m very skeptical about new interpretations but we talked about the key to making a new Pinocchio, which is knowing who Pinocchio is.
At that time, I saw the Pinocchio drawings and I thought this is the key to making a new version. Gris is an artist who has been working for decades and has his style. His Pinocchio had this hard-to-control force of nature, an essence that can’t be tamed.
When I saw the drawing that expressed rebellion and an undomesticated essence, I saw that it was the perfect way to start. Pinocchio is curious but rebellious, casually cruel, and also inquisitive.
And how was the process of choosing the actors to lend their voices?
We think Ewan McGregor, who is the cricket character, has one of the warmest voices in addition to his personality. With Cate Blanchett, who plays Spazzatura the monkey and has no dialogue, we were doing Nightmare Alley and she said, “I want to be a part of Pinocchio.”
I told her that the only role we have left is that of a monkey and she said, “I don’t care. I’ll play it.” Christoph Waltz has this incredible charisma – he is charming, intelligent and at the same time, he has cruel elements perfect for playing Volpe, a great villain and manipulator.
John Turturro has a small role but an important one. Little by little, we managed to put together a great cast. For the character of Pinocchio, we saw hundreds of children. The one who got the role (Gregory Mann) is excellent, very natural.
Translated by Mario Amaya