The Movie Guru: ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ and ‘Darby and the Dead’ new on streaming
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (Netflix)
For good or ill, this movie is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Guillermo del Toro.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is a dark, somewhat tragic fairy tale that is richly emotional but occasionally gets a little too convoluted. Fans of the Disney version will recognize some of the base themes, including fatherhood and what it means to be a person, but this version is full of death, fantastical creatures, and monsters of the Nazi variety. The exquisite stop-motion animation will appeal to everyone, but the story propelling it might be a little treacherous for some.
The movie opens in WWI, with a happy Geppetto and his human son. Tragedy strikes, and Geppetto falls into drunken despair until a series of circumstances cause him to turn his son’s beloved tree into a small wooden puppet. When the Blue Fairy brings the boy to life, the two struggle over what it means to be alive, to be safe, and be an individual.
There are some familiar moments, including a differently-named but equally treacherous circus owner and the sea-beast who swallows Geppetto up. Other moments, however, including a Nazi youth camp leader and the son who becomes an unexpected friend, take the story in different but thematically similar directions. The ending feels a little open-ended, somehow managing to be both too abrupt and long-winded at the same moment.
The stop-motion animation is incredible, a feast for the eyes. It’s inarguably the best thing about the movie, and a delight to watch no matter what’s happening. Whatever animation awards there are out there, this deserves all of them.
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Grade: Three stars
Darby and the Dead (Hulu)
Even the presence of dead people doesn’t change your average teen movie all that much.
Despite the interesting concept, “Darby and the Dead” soon falls into far-too-familiar plot grooves. A group of appealing performers helps make it all go down easy, and if you like the genre you’ll probably enjoy yourself. But if you’re looking for something different, you’re not going to find it here.
After a childhood full of cheerleading, a tragic accident makes young Darby able to see dead people. She withdraws from other kids, focusing on helping ghosts move on to the afterlife so much that she’s seen as the “weird kid” by others. When the most popular girl in school dies and needs Darby to help throw her long-planned birthday party, however, both her afterlife and Darby’s life will change forever.
After a solid opening with an engaging hint of darkness, the old high school cliches fly thick and fast. If you’ve ever seen one of those movies has to become popular for some reason, you can predict a solid chunk of the plot.
Thankfully, the leads are all fun to watch. Riele Downs and Auli’i Cravalho really carry the movie, and their animosity-turned-grudging-friendship is the most honest thing in the film. Though their roles have much less room for nuance, Asher Angel and Chosen Jacobs are both charming.
Grade: Two stars
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.