Del Toro’s Pinocchio vs. Disney’s Live-Action Remake: Which Will Prevail?

In January 2022, Netflix’s official YouTube account released a trailer for a stop-motion-animated Pinocchio movie, co-directed by Guillermo del Toro and animator Mark Gustafson. In May, Disney released a trailer for another Pinocchio movie of its own — a live-action Disney+ exclusive inspired by the 1940 animated classic. This version will be directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Tom Hanks as the carpenter Geppetto.

The Netflix movie is a subversive take on the classic story of Carlo Collodi’s novel, with Ewan McGregor’s “Sebastian J. Cricket” promising “a story you may think you know, but you don’t.” In contrast, the trailer for Disney’s version plays heavily on nostalgia and tradition, featuring a rendition of the original film’s “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which has since become Disney’s musical signature. With both movies being released in 2022, how will they stand out from each other?

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The Netflix film will be entirely animated, and animation is the perfect medium for the story of a wooden puppet that becomes animated by magic. Stop-motion is a particularly inspired choice, as this style of animation is created by repositioning and taking thousands of photographs of physical character models. The care del Toro, Gustafson and their team must be taking in this project feels like a tribute to the dedication and craftsmanship of Geppetto himself. In this version, Pinocchio really will be a puppet brought to life.

In contrast, Disney’s live-action remakes have been criticized because the medium puts limitations on the imagination of the original animated films. Disney’s Pinocchio The trailer shows a glimpse of the static puppet, portrayed by a prop that looks identical to his appearance in the 1940 film. However, if Disney’s previous live-action remakes are an indication, Pinocchio will probably become a CGI character after being brought to life. Interestingly, Pinocchio being an animated character among a live-action cast could create a more striking contrast between them, making the puppet’s wish to be a “real boy” even more symbolically meaningful.

Both movies have strong casts. Disney+’s trailer emphasizes Tom Hanks as the humble carpenter Geppetto, showing him making his fateful wish and sailing at sea. Cynthia Erivo appears in the trailer as the Blue Fairy, and this is not her only lead role in an upcoming musical: Erivo is set to play Elphaba in John M. Chu’s 2024 Wicked adaptation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt will voice Jiminy Cricket, whom the trailer frames up-close and far away to play with the sense of scale created by the diminutive character.

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Netflix’s Geppetto will be voiced by Broadchurch BAFTA winner David Bradley, whom pop culture fans may recognize as Walder Frey in Game of Thrones and Filch in the Harry Potter series. The film’s IMDb page also promises Oscar winners Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Christoph Waltz in voice roles as well. Del Toro’s longtime collaborator Ron Perlman is also listed to play antagonistic theater operator Mangiafuoco.

Del Toro has never directed a stop-motion movie, which is surprising as his often twisted fairy tale style evokes the dark themes seen in other stop-motion movies such as Corpse Bride and Coraline. However, he has worked in animation before, such as in his original CGI Netflix series Trollhunters. Gustafson has plenty of stop-motion experience to support the project and introduce del Toro to the medium, having worked on numerous claymation television episodes and one-off specials.

Some of Robert Zemeckis’ animated movies, though technically groundbreaking, have been criticized for their extremely realistic style. Most recently, Disney’s own Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers poked fun at the “uncanny valley” characters in Beowulf with Seth Rogen’s Viking character Bob. However, Pinocchio‘s mix of live actors and more exaggeratedly stylized animated characters could play to some of the director’s most notable strengths, as he set the benchmark for animated and live-action hybrid movies with 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

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Netflix’s official summary describes Geppetto as “grieving,” and the Disney+ trailer briefly shows a framed photograph of a human boy who resembles the eponymous puppet. This could imply that both movies have re-characterized Geppetto as creating Pinocchio because he misses his dead son. Del Toro compared to his Pinocchio to the timeless horror story of Frankenstein, which implies the film will have a dark tone. However, it looks as though both films will explore the smaller dark theme of grieving a child.

Both films promise imaginative animation and a spellbinding fairy tale story. However, it’s understandable that fans may be apprehensive of Zemeckis’ film due to the divisiveness of Disney’s previous live-action remakes, and more excited about del Toro and Gustafson’s experimental reimagining of the story. Whichever adaptation audiences choose to stream, those who still find themselves moved by the story of the wooden boy and his various moral dilemmas will hopefully discover that both movies have enough unique elements to be worth watching.

Pinocchio hits Disney+ on September 8, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio hits Netflix in December 2022.

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