“People are sometimes afraid of things they don’t know.”
This is the second high-profile adaptation of Pinocchio in 2022 alone. Whilst Zemeckis continued Disney’s creatively barren attempts at live action remakes of its beloved animated features, Guillermo del Toro’s is a true retelling of the story in his own inimitable way. Within the framework of a family film, it feels as though del Toro has crafted a companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth with shared themes of death and fascism. Pinocchio’s very creation is an act of grief — after Geppetto cuts down his dead son’s tree in a drunken fit of rage — and his early moments of life are reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, inspiring fear in both his creator and the villagers. Although the familiar story beats remain intact, del Toro’s sympathies have always lain with outsiders struggling to find their place in society, as everyone’s ideas for Pinocchio are exploitative — a father wishing to replace a lost son, Christoph Waltz’s wonderfully mercurial circus owner (“You may have no strings but I control you”) sensing profit, and the fascists who wish to turn him into an undying soldier. Stop motion is perhaps the perfect medium for Pinocchio since it turns all the characters into stringless puppets. There is a genuinely handcrafted feel to Pinocchio, roughly hewn with nails sticking out of his back, and the physical sets scale wonderfully with the puppetry. Although there is a slew of high profile actors, there is no stunt casting and only Ewan McGregor’s narration as Cricket was distractingly recognisable. The musical numbers are the film’s weakest aspect, interrupting the pacing and entirely forgettable. To explore what it means to be human, however, Pinocchio is a rich and satisfying adaptation.
“This is just a body. It’s not bad or good. That part’s up to you.”
Dr Dyson Ido
Alita is two thirds of a good origin story, spoiled by an unexpectedly truncated ending that provides no resolution. Despite the heavy CGI at play, Rodriguez’s direction keeps the majority of the film impressively grounded, and the action sequences in particular benefit greatly from characters that feel like they occupy physical space (e.g. a cyborg roller derby shot using the camera techniques used for NASCAR). Ending aside, the biggest flaw is an artistic choice that fails to pay off. Whilst virtually all of the cyborgs have human faces — even where attached to monstrous mechanical bodies — Alita’s is motion-captured CGI to mirror her manga origins and provide a slightly otherworldly appearance. The cartoonishly large eyes are expressive, but the overly smoothed skin and features fall heavily into the uncanny valley, undermining many of the films slower paced, emotional story beats. The fact that the effects work so well on the human-faced cyborgs only reinforces that this was a deliberation decision, if an unfortunate one.
“He never struck me as the kind of guy who’d go get small. Wow!”
Alexander Payne’s social satire takes a fascinating concept — shrinking part of the human population to reduce environmental impact — but fails to explore it in any real depth as he prefers to follow his usual brand of mid-life crisis tale against that tantalising backdrop. There is a biting cynicism toward a brand of faux-environmentalism in which people only engage when it offers other benefits to their lifestyle or economic situation. In “downsized” communities, minimal wealth earned outside translates to luxury living which is the real draw for most residents. Though peppered with interesting ideas, Downsizing‘s ultimate message seems to be that we ought to care for the people around us now rather than engaging in high-minded attempts to save the species. For that to be the only real take-away feels like a wasted opportunity.