LOS ANGELES – “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” has had an Oscar wish come true.
The director’s stop-motion, musical take on the puppet who longs to be a real boy won Netflix its first animated feature trophy on Sunday.
The category has primarily gone to either a Walt Disney or Pixar-produced film for the past decade — with the exception of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
“Animation is ready to be taken to the next step. We are all ready for it. Please help us keep animation in the conversation,” del Toro said.
“Pinocchio” was considered the contender to beat. It swept several awards including the Golden Globe and the top honor at the animation industry's Annie Awards.
The movie beat out “Turning Red,” “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and “The Sea Beast.”
The voice cast includes Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, fellow Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton.
It earned rave reviews for a stunningly beautiful production that takes a dark look at issues of love and mortality between the titular puppet and surrogate father, Gepetto. A polar opposite of Disney's 1940 version, this “Pinocchio” references Catholicism, fascism and the ugliness of war.
The movie was not about the titular character learning to be the perfect boy, del Toro said.
“I think it’s a lesson that’s urgent in the world," he told reporters in the press room after. "We are saying disobedience is not only necessary, it is a virtue.”
The Mexican-born del Toro, who won the Oscar for best director in 2018 for “The Shape of Water," has said animation is pure cinema. Animators have been hitting back in recent years against the stigma that animated movies are just a kids' genre.
For del Toro, animators should be treated as artists — not technicians. He pointed out that in his “Pinocchio,” they are listed in the credits even before the main voice actors.
“This is an art form that has been kept commercially and industrially at the kids table for so long,” del Toro said. “A win helps but it is about going forward as a community making it.”
Co-director Mark Gustafson echoed that message on stage.
“It’s so good to know this art form we love so much — stop motion — is very much alive and well,” Gustafson said.
Del Toro, who has established two filmmaking scholarships, says he is now committed to financing a stop motion class for students from Mexico at the Gobelins animation school. Young people, particularly those who are Latin or part of a minority, are burdened with an inherent pressure to succeed.
“The first duty of representation is to do it really well ... because you’re not doing it for you,” del Toro said. “You’re doing it for people that come after you and are looking for opportunities. If you don’t that, you’re closing that door.”
When del Toro came in the 1990s to the U.S., he encountered “a lot of open and subtle racism.” He remembered “with great chagrin” an interview his cinematographer, Oscar-winner Guillermo Navarro, had with a talent agent.
The agent “said to him 'Why do I want a Mexican? I have a gardener.”
While things have improved for people of color, there is still a very tough glass ceiling to overcome.
“You have to keep pushing it all the time. It doesn’t end with one generation. It doesn’t end with one person,” del Toro said. “But again, together you push that limit more and more and create opportunity.”
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