Over the Christmas break, Netflix treated us to a new animation, a very different telling of the story of Pinocchio.
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is definitely not like the Disney version I saw as a child. In this new telling of the story of the wooden boy, the grief of Geppetto, who loses his son at the start of the film, is explored with a level of realism. Geppetto takes to heavy drinking and is filled rage and anger.
Pinocchio’s several meetings with Death (voiced by Tilda Swinton) have a definite feel of The Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), the Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration.
But, in the midst of the chaotic life of the wooden boy, the Mexican director gets Pinocchio to ask a profound and deeply theological question, that for me made the film quite special.
Geppetto has been installing a huge wooden crucifix at the front of the church, which he’s been carving for months. The villagers love it and gaze adoringly at the wooden Christ as they worship.
When they encounter Pinocchio however - carved while Geppetto was drunk - with his one ear and asymmetric face, the villagers are repulsed and make their feelings known.
Geppetto is soon visited by the fascist party Podestà and the priest. (Yes, the story wanders into Mussolini territory and El Duce even makes a brief appearance!)
Geppetto tries to reassure his visitors that Pinocchio will be kept under control.
Aware of his unpopularity, Pinocchio is more subdued when he next visits the church, accompanying Geppetto as he works on the huge image of Christ.
‘Papa, there’s something I don’t understand. Everybody likes him,’ says Pinocchio, pointing to Christ on the cross, ‘They were all singing to him. He’s made of wood too. Why do they like him and not me?’
It’s actually a profound question. If we are all made in the image of God, made of the same stuff - spirit rather than wood in our case - then why do some people encounter such hostility in certain Christian circles?
Pinocchio was a bit different, he didn’t fit in and couldn’t fit in with the expectations of the religious people of his village. He was like the type of person that Jesus sought out and befriended - the dodgy tax collector, the woman having an affair, the foreigner, the outsider.
The ones the religious people were repulsed by were the ones Jesus embraced.
‘Why do they like him and not me?’
It’s the heartfelt cry of the outsider. It’s the cry of many who don’t fit in.
In the end, what transformed Pinocchio was unconditional love.
Maybe this strange new telling of an old story could inspire all people who sing songs to Christ to be more loving, generous and inclusive to the outsider, to those who are different and who don’t seem to fit in.
I hope it does. It’s certainly the message that we need to hear.