The writer/producer/director appeared with co-director Mark Gustafson, Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos and others in the cast and crew Tuesday night at the film’s New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art. In addition to the film, which world premiered in October at the BFI London Film Festival, the event offered an early look at Crafting Pinocchio, an exhibition scheduled to open Sunday at MoMA and remain on view through next April.
“We wanted to push the boundaries of stop-motion,” del Toro told the audience, standing alongside co-director Mark Gustafson, whose credits include The Fantastic Mr. Fox. “We wanted to move away from the things that make animation confused as a genre for kids. It is not. Animation is art, and animation is film.” Citing animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s credo about how animating the ordinary makes it extraordinary, del Toro continued, “Anybody can move the puppet, but not everybody can animate it. Anima: soul. Infuse the puppet with a soul. We don’t want motion — we want emotion.”
On the red carpet, principals posed with scale models used during the painstaking shoot, which saw crews on 60 soundstages working simultaneously to each generate a second or two of usable footage a day. (The final running time is a shade less than two hours.)
As documented by the exhibition, del Toro’s take on Pinocchio is significantly darker and earthier than the “When You Wish Upon a Star” Disney version, though it is rendered with deep feeling. It draws directly the original 1883 novel by Carlo Collodi, but shifts the action to 1930s Italy amid the rise of Mussolini. Sarandos described the original novel as “one of the defining creative inspirations of Guillermo del Toro’s career.”
Sarandos called it an “unbelievable gift” to work with del Toro, whose Cabinet of Curiosity anthology series generated strong viewership for Netflix this year. “As accomplished as he is,” Sarandos said, del Toro is also relentlessly curious “about other people’s work and the influence of that work on his work.”
Earlier in the day, in a keynote session at the UBS Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in New York, Sarandos sized up the company’s progress five years into making original films. “We’re trying to make content that fans love, first and foremost,” he said. “If critics love it too, that’s great. And if it wins awards too, that’s even better. But it starts with the fans. That film team has been very focused on that.”