The dark side of a children’s classic

What unites every re-telling is Collodi’s indelible images: a wooden boy; a talking cricket; a nose that gets longer when you lie. But running alongside all of those is a powerful truth. “I think it’s fear of the adult world,” says del Toro, “this idea that you are thrown into a world of adult values that are not only hard to understand but eventually prove false. That’s how I came to feel as a kid. All the things adults told you, they didn’t understand themselves.” In the first half of the book, it’s a few villains who cause trouble for Pinocchio. In the second half, four black rabbits carry a coffin into his room to take him away while he is still alive, and a judge (who happens to be a gorilla) throws him in jail because he is the victim of a theft. As fantastical as these episodes are, the fear they evoke, the feeling of being lost and powerless in a grown-up society where nothing makes sense, is more recognisable than the relatively orderly and logical yarns in most children’s books.

The same goes for the central character. Everyone knows that Pinocchio wants to be a real boy, but a key reason why he has been so adored for almost 150 years is that he is always as real as anyone in literature. Rather than being an intrepid, noble hero, Pinocchio is rude, selfish, naive, curious, forgetful, easily swayed by temptation, slow to learn from his mistakes, upset when things go wrong, but kind, well-meaning, and capable of bravery. Wooden or not, he couldn’t be much more human than that.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is released on Netflix on 9 December.

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