"Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio": (L-R) Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and...

"Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio": (L-R) Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann).  Credit: Netflix

MOVIE "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio'

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Disney mythos gets tossed aside in "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio." The Oscar-winning visionary ("The Shape of Water") looks all the way back to the source material — Carlo Collodi's 1883 novel "The Adventures of Pinocchio" — to inspire an adaptation that brings the story into the height of fascist Italy during the 1930s.

Truly, it cannot be stated enough: This "Pinocchio" is a long way from the familiar family-friendly version. Del Toro and his co-director, Mark Gustafson, utilize stop-motion animation to tell a much darker version of this story, captured within a design scheme, based on the illustrations of Gris Grimly, that relies on grandiloquent horror images.

The plot hits the expected marks and beloved characters appear, with tweaks. Two examples: Pleasure Island turns into a fascist training camp, where Pinocchio and his fellow boys play a war game. Our hero's conscience comes courtesy of the intellectual Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), an insect with glowing, pupil-free eyes, a snooty mustache and a dream of having a quiet night to write his memoirs.

Other characters come to life thanks to the vocal talents of Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Ron Perlman and Christoph Waltz, among other luminaries. Pinocchio is played by the young actor Gregory Mann and David Bradley ("Game of Thrones") presents Geppetto as a father beset by unending sadness.

There's a new slate of songs, as well.

MY SAY Del Toro specializes in heightened, heavily stylized fantasy pictures that transcend their immaculate design schemes to reveal something essential about the human condition. It's easy to see what attracted him to this revamping of Pinocchio's story and to using stop-motion animation to do it.

There's perhaps not a single work in popular culture more fundamentally tied to the inquiry that has defined del Toro's career, the question of what defines our humanity.

The animation technique forgoes the fairy-tale qualities of traditional hand-drawn work and the photorealism of the computer generated imagery that's now the norm in this mode of filmmaking.

It complicates the story by blurring the lines that separate Pinocchio from the flesh-and-blood people that surround him. In the world of stop-motion, every character begins life as a puppet, subtly moved from frame-to-frame. So, while Pinocchio looks more like the sort of hastily assembled carving a grieving man might have made one night, he doesn't seem all that different from the "flesh-and-blood" villagers that surround him.

That allows for del Toro to work in a magical realist framework in which fairies and the traveling circus can coexist with a resonant depiction of fascist terrors.

Pinocchio gets targeted by the evil ringmaster Count Volpe (Waltz) and the political forces taking root in his village, exemplified by the government representative Podestà (Perlman), not because he's a puppet, but because he is a free spirit and not easily controlled.

It's harrowing, but also inspirational. Through it all, Pinocchio retains his innocence and good nature, while developing a seemingly limitless capacity to love and to forgive.

BOTTOM LINE Del Toro's re-imagining of the Pinocchio story is not for the youngest kids, but anyone interested in what happens when a brilliant filmmaker takes on classic material will find a lot to admire.

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