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“It’s not a Pinocchio for all the family,” he said of his story, set in 1930s Italy. So is it a political film? “Of course. Pinocchio during the rise of Mussolini, do the math. A puppet during the rise of fascism, yes, it is,” said the filmmaker.
Del Toro was speaking at the Marrakech Film Festival, where he is set to give a master class this week. The darker turn on the fable is perhaps not surprising from the Pan’s Labyrinth director, who compared the puppet who longs to be a real boy to Frankenstein’s monster. “He’s a creature that is created through unnatural means from a father that he then distances [himself] from, and has to learn about failure and pain and loneliness,” he said, noting that he chose stop-motion animation for the project because it’s “more expressive” than working with actors.
While del Toro is resistant to making an overtly political film, the Oscar-winner said that he finds fantasy films always end up with political messages. “There’s no fable without politics,” he said, citing the gender and class struggles of stories such as Cinderella and Snow White, and even the message of his own The Shape of Water. “Rarely can you get in productive discussions in real life right now, it’s so tense,” he said. “It’s much easier for you to listen to me if I tell you ‘Once upon a time… .'”
Addressing the current political situation at the U.S.-Mexican border, the native Mexican said the recent images of migrants being gassed at the border “break my heart,” calling the current divisive politics “the oldest political trick in the book.”
“Hatred is an incredibly useful tool to dominate,” said del Toro. “And if you know a little bit of history, you see it used effectively every century.” “Othering,” the practice of blaming structural problems on a marginalized group, was a theme in Shape of Water, and he will be dealing with it again in Pinocchio.
Del Toro’s dark approach on the material made it a hard sell for the director, who shopped Pinocchio around for a decade before Netflix, which is behind his Trollhunters animated series, took on the project.
“I went to every studio in Hollywood and they all said no, so whoever says yes, I will make it with that person,” he said. That person turned out to be Netflix chief Reed Hastings, and del Toro added that he is following in the footsteps of the Cohen brothers with The Battle of Buster Scruggs and his pal Alfonso Cuaron with Roma in partnering with the streamer to get his challenging passion project made. Whether or not it will receive the theatrical treatment like Roma remains to be seen, but he is “more scared of not making it” than having people watch it on the small screen.
Del Toro said he sees the business shifting away from Netflix in the next five years, as studios all build their own streaming platforms and compete for the same consumer. But he added that he doesn’t analyze the business outside of his own films and making sure there opportunities for the next generation. “The industry is like a shark. It smells money 50 miles away like one drop of blood, and it goes ‘dun dun dun.’ So it will go where it goes. I’m not a shark. I’m a goldfish having a good time in the sea,” said del Toro.
The prolific producer also confirmed that he is backing an English-language remake of the Argentinean horror film Terrified, with original director Demian Rugna on board to helm for Fox Searchlight. The Hellboy director said he is also still open to doing a Marvel movie or other superhero film — even though his screenplay for Justice League Dark never saw the light of day — but only if it centers around less traditionally suave and handsome characters.
“I’m not interested in superheroes that aren’t monsters. I’m not interested in anyone who looks good,” del Toro joked.
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