Over the past five years, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has spent a lot of time and expended a lot of effort not making films. First, he spent a couple of years working on the The Hobbit before finally leaving the project because of its many delays. Then he lost another nine months prepping an adaptation of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness, which Universal ultimately balked at pursuing because of del Toro’s insistence that the expensive period project needed an R rating to do justice to Lovecraft’s vision. The result? Del Toro hasn’t directed a movie since 2008’s Hellboy II.
Now the auteur is making up for lost time. Del Toro is currently hard at work on his sci-fi epic Pacific Rim, but he is also prepping a 3-D stop-motion version of the Pinocchio story, which he is set to co-direct with Fantastic Mr. Fox animation director Mark Gustafson. In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly you can see exclusive Pinocchio concept art and read why del Toro is not trying to “top” the beloved Disney version. But the director had much, much more to say about his take on Carlo Collodi’s wooden-boy fable, as you’ll see below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to make Pinocchio?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: In a strange way, two of the stories that fascinate me the most are kind of related, which is Frankenstein and Pinocchio. They are both about creatures that are created and then get lost in a world they don’t understand. And they are both journeys of understanding, and journeys of evolution of the spirit. When we started working on Pinocchio we knew very clearly that we wanted to make it different in the sense that it is not just a fairy tale but a fairy tale that actually moves you and emotionally affects you. It deals with ideas that are relevant to everyone, to all mankind in a way.
What stage are you at with the project?
We have a very solid draft of the screenplay. I’m doing a new pass on the visuals, storyboarding, and doing a new pass on the screenplay.
The project is being inspired and informed by artist Gris Grimly’s illustrations?
Yeah, Gris has been part of the development of Pinocchio from the start. Originally he approached me to direct it and then I was producing for him to direct and now he’s helping me produce and I’m directing. We were greatly inspired by his book. He’s instrumental in the look of Pinocchio, for example, and the look of Mangiafuoco.
How would you compare your vision of the Pinocchio tale with that of the Disney version?
Well, the Disney version is one of my favorite animated movies of all time. What I’m going for is a PG-13 — more adolescent, more teenage. I hesitate to say just darker, because it’s not just darker. It is a tale that is adapted to a more complex reality, more complex ethical questions. It’s more a tale for youth than a tale for just kids.
Will there be scares?
Yeah. But even the original book and the Disney version are pretty scary. I think the moments where they go to Pleasure Island, even in the original animated movie, it was pretty intense. When I was a kid I was absolutely horrified. It will be much more intense in our version.
Have you cast any of the roles?
We have talked to a few actors that are interested in participating. My idea of Geppetto would be Tom Waits and we talked with Nick Cave to produce the soundtrack and the music and the songs. He’s one of my favorite composers and songwriters.
I love Nick Cave, too. But I interviewed him a while back and he scared the hell out of me. He said I need to “try harder” with my questions.
[Laughs] He’s a very intense rock star.
Are you a big fan of stop-motion?
Very much so. I am a huge fan and a collector of artifacts and reproductions of stop-motion props and puppets. I used to teach stop-motion animation to kids when I was in high school and, when I had my special effects company in Mexico, we had a stop-motion studio that we kept open for about ten years.
Between the Aardman Animations movies and Fantastic Mr. Fox, stop-motion seems to have made a real comeback over the last few years.
The moment CG is successful everybody jumps onto that bandwagon. But I think that there is a lot to be learned from the other forms of animation, like stop-motion and 2-D. I think one of the most successful marriages of different techniques was Tangled where (animator) Glen Keane was able to marry all his knowledge of animation into a 3-D matrix. In my opinion, Tangled really was a huge step forward.