Netflix recently released an adaptation of the classic story of Pinocchio — Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. This take brings the puppet and pals to life with stunning stop-motion photography and a refreshed look at the story. However, while many of us think we know the story of the puppet who wants to become a real boy, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio may hit a little differently. And it may not be appropriate for all kids.
Some reviews of the new animated Netflix movie hint that this darker take on the classic story might be too sad for little ones. But while it is sad, is that necessarily a reason to take it off your family's watch list? Experts are saying maybe not. Here's what to know.
How Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio Is Different From Other Versions
The story of Pinocchio has been around for nearly 140 years, first released as "The Adventures of Pinocchio," a novel by Carlo Collodi, in 1883. Since then, there have been dozens of takes on the story, including 20 screen adaptations since 1911, Vulture reports. Arguably, the most popular version is Disney's 1940s film.
However, even Disney's take has been criticized for being too dark for kids. And that version of Pinocchio does include some pretty scary scenes, between the puppet master, Pleasure Island, and that entire whale sequence.
Guillermo's version takes some creative liberties, and parents absolutely need to know that this story is sad (although it's more sad than scary, in my opinion). Netflix attempted to make the subject matter crystal-clear. Before the film even plays, there's a disclaimer: "PG; Dark thematic material, violence, peril, some rude humour, and brief smoking. Parental Guidance Suggested."
Quickly following the message, the movie's first scene sets the stage, which includes Geppetto sitting at the gravesite of his 10-year-old son, Carlo. Viewers are then taken into a flashback, during which the happy dad plays with his curious son. Not even 10 minutes into the movie, tragedy strikes when Carlo dies in a dramatic scene during a WWII air raid.
From there, the story is built upon grief, depicting a dad who struggles years later to make sense of the tragedy of his son's death, rebuild a life, and see beauty when there's so much heaviness. The adventures that follow don't shy away from those complex emotions.
But the story also brings in the magic we've come to love with fantasy movies. There are wood spirits and Cricket, and Pinocchio comes to life.
Is Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio Too Sad for Kids?
As a parent myself — with four kids between the ages of 9 and 17 — I felt that this movie wasn't too sad for any of them. Yes, it was heavy, but there's a beautiful takeaway about fatherhood that makes the sadness feel worth it in the end. And that speaks to a larger point about sad movies and kids. Yes, a parent's instinct is to protect their little ones from pain. But isn't there value in being exposed to less-than-happy storylines?
"As a parent, I wholeheartedly relate to how hard it is to watch my children suffer, even if only emotionally," Angela Caldwell, MA, LMFT, a California licenced marriage, and family therapist, tells POPSUGAR. "When my daughter faced her first broken heart over The Velveteen Rabbit, I instinctively wrapped her in my protective arms and sopped up her tears with kisses and empty reassurances that made my husband roll his eyes," Caldwell shares.
But she later realised that jumping to soothe her little one might not have been the best move in the long run. "In my attempt to protect my daughter from suffering, I was essentially robbing her of an opportunity to explore a crucially important part of her emotional self safely and without the distraction of her mother's fear," Caldwell says.
Bertrina Olivia West Al-Mahdi, PhD, aka Dr. O, is a psychologist from Atlanta, GA, who tells POPSUGAR there are some benefits to watching sad movies with our kids. "Sad movies teach resilience and that it's okay to express emotion," she says. "But on the other hand, you want to ensure you are not exposing traumatic experiences to children."
Dr. O suggests parents "be open to discussing the content" when deciding if something is appropriate for their kids to watch. If "you feel like it's an opportunity to build resilience and teach about the healthy expression of emotion, then go with it."
How Young Is Too Young To Watch Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio?
Even based on my personal experience with the movie, I would caution parents with younger children against watching it — and experts agree.
There's no hard rule for how old a child must be to watch a movie of this weight, and much of that decision will come from the parent's preferences and knowledge of their own kids. But Caldwell says there are a few guidelines parents can follow.
"Generally speaking, children under the age of 3 are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality and may become overwhelmed by onscreen depictions of death, pain, or separation from a parent," Caldwell shares. "A crucial element for a child's safe processing is a healthy distance between fact and fiction."
You also know your kid best. If you've checked out the plot line and reviews and feel reasonable certain that there's a risk of the harmful effects of the emotional themes outweighing any benefits, choose something lighter — the movie will always be there in a few months or a few years, when the timing is right.
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is available now on Netflix.