“Ciao Papa, mio Papa. Time has come to say farewell.” In Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, the eponymous wooden boy dramatically belts out the first few lines of this heart-wrenching earworm, which may compromise my 2023 Spotify Wrapped if I’m not careful.
Guillermo del Toro delivers pure magic in his rendition of Pinocchio. The visionary filmmaker strongly contests that animation is a film medium and not just a genre for kids with his unique spin on the classic children’s tale, which offers fun visuals, wondrous music, and dark metaphors of loss and grief.
Pinocchio offers a narrative of exploitation in tumultuous WWI that bleeds into fascist rule in Italy in the 1930s, adding in perfectly timed humor and an incredible score, now nominated for the Golden Globe Best Original Score award. Most notable is the song “Ciao Papa.”
The sorrowful song is paired with a happily depicted Pinocchio, who prances on stage for spectacle while a montage plays of despondent children leaving their homes to battle in Mussolini’s army. (Have fun explaining that to your kids!) With so many emotions conveyed, this number takes the cake, narrowing the boundaries between a dark narrative tone and the lighthearted innocence of its hero.
The multi-layered fairy tale begs your regard at every corner, featuring biblically accurate angels that are hard to tear your eyes away from, and a great aquatic adventure involving shipwrecks, crazed fishermen, and an insatiable dogfish that swallows the crew (Jonah and the whale style!). With its motifs of religion, violent fascists, and a strange gangly wooden boy come to life, it’s easy for the dizzying themes to overwhelm you. I must insert, however, that Pinocchio‘s greatest gem to viewers is actually a song that’s just under 3 minutes and will have the whole room blubbering in its wake.
Alexandre Desplat’s “Ciao Papa” is youthful, poetic, and somber, encapsulating the true essence of childlike purity in a world riddled with death, disease, and all of the old and ornery crones that eventually drain you of youth and bound to repeat the toxic cycle.
Near the climactic turn of the film, Pinocchio vanishes from home in order to spare his father, Gepetto, his unpredictable and disobedient behavior. The cantankerous mourner had made it abundantly clear Pinocchio was nothing like his real son, Carlo, previously lost to an inadvertent airstrike. So, the wooden boy sets off on his own journey of self-discovery and pity. Unfortunately, it’s a journey led by money-hungry exploiter Count Volpe, an Italian aristocrat and puppeteer who tricks Pinocchio, intending to use him as his step stool to fame and fortune.
‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ review: a mature fairy tale about grief, war, and growing up
Pinocchio believes his song-and-dance tour across Italy will earn money for his father. But the deceitful Volpe pockets all coins earned and refuses Pinocchio’s request to be freed and sent back to live with his old man. The pine-tree boy’s naïveté paints the perfect frame for a number like “Ciao Papa.”
The eponymous boy wished to life by his carpenter father stumbles and fumbles cartoonishly through a life he should have never known. His existence is almost a crime against humanity, growing nose and all. Thrown into the expectation to fill shoes of a son lost too soon and with no guidance but that of Sebastian, the talking cricket, Pinocchio was given little to no preparation or support in his journey of introspection. He’s not insubordinate or mischievous; he’s a talking wooden puppet thrown into a community that exploits him instead of embracing him for his childlike mistakes. The build-up solidifying the “Ciao Papa” stage performance fuses his frustration in a venerated fit of passion, exposing a vulnerability too raw to be rendered for only the ears of adolescence.
“Ciao Papa” humanizes intrusive thoughts that come from feeling like a social outcast, wishing to run away from the judgmental eyes of elders, friends, and even our own parents. While this imposter syndrome can take on many different forms and meanings based on the individual, it’s something widely perceived by kids and adults, making this musical number relatable in more ways than one. Of course, not everyone has the ability to pick up and run for the hills to face “crying camels” or numerous “peaks to climb.” But having this anguish personified in a song opens doors for critical validation in healing the hurt.
I can’t remember the last time I shed tears to the image of a boy/puppet/pine tree woodworking-turned-human singing about his yearning to be loved before he gets shipped off to fight in a perilous war. The musical number encapsulates the movie’s themes just as much as it is awe-inspiring for viewers of all ages to listen and unconsciously melt into the melody and lyricism.
If you ever needed an example to prove why animation should be a medium enjoyed by all age groups, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio shows that with enough consideration, a particularly fixated creative eye, and a damned good soundtrack, the possibility is more than attainable.
To hell with entertainment respectability politics. Pinocchio is for all!