After being in production on and off for nearly 20 years (and taking 1000 days to film), Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio has finally been revealed to the world following its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival (and subsequent screening at this year’s AFI Fest) – and the reactions are exactly as rapturous as we always expected for this year’s long-standing Best Animated Feature frontrunner. A 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with an 8.9/10 average rating. A 93 on Metacritic. And on and on and on. And it’s not only a ravishing reimagination of this oft-told tale with even more emotion and new moving messages and sociocultural commentary, but also a visually resplendent and thematically rich reminder that animation is art as well as entertainment, which is a mantra that both co-director/producer Guillermo del Toro and Netflix have masterfully leaned into as of late, making it the centerpiece of their campaign and promoting the picture with the hashtag, #AnimationIsFilm. So, naturally, with how well the film has been received – and how hard this campaign is trying to get voters to regard animation as worthy of attention and accolades outside its designated category at the Oscars – how high can it fly at this year’s Academy Awards? Is there a world where it fares as well as (if not better than) some of the major live-action films in awards contention this year? And that would mean more than Pinocchio possibly additionally picking up a Best Original Score nod for two-time winner and eleven-time nominee Alexandre Desplat; I’m talking about Best Picture (which Netflix has not been shy about having their eye on). So, let’s take a look below at all the Oscar categories Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio can possibly contend in, in order from likeliest to least likeliest (in my opinion) – and the sky’s the limit.
Best Animated Feature
Let’s start with the obvious. Most of us have had Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio at #1 in the Best Animated Feature race for ages (probably even as early as last year), and these rave reviews have only solidified our stance. Not only is the competition fairly weak this year (Turning Red has its fans, Strange World should be a decent hit for Disney, and My Father’s Dragon will likely be another nod for Cartoon Saloon, yet none could generate win chatter), but Pinocchio is also just so overwhelmingly adored – and hailed as a landmark moment for animation – that it’s hard to see any film have the fervor to catch up. Plus, let’s not underestimate how charming a campaigner Guillermo del Toro is. Hearing the man speak, his authentic captivation with cinema is so compelling that you can’t help but be swept up in his appreciation for the artform too, and he’s been in Oscar’s good graces ever since he swept the 2017-2018 season with The Shape of Water (and he managed to get Nightmare Alley some major noms last year – even in Best Picture – despite underperforming elsewhere). Simply put, there’s no way Pinocchio misses this nom.
Best Original Score
I mean, I feel like it’s one of the obvious unspoken Oscar punditry rules to never count out Alexandre Desplat in the Best Original Score category, but after actually hearing his score for Pinocchio, not including him in your top five for this line-up feels like a colossal error. Not only is he beloved by the branch (need I remind everyone of his two wins and eleven nominations?), but this is also supremely showy work (even in an extremely competitive year, where he’ll face The Fabelmans‘ John Williams, Babylon‘s Justin Hurwitz, Women Talking‘s Hildur Guðnadóttir, Empire of Light‘s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and so on and so forth), and Best Original Score is notoriously favorable to animated features, having nominated 32 throughout Oscar history and giving the award to nine (Desplat was responsible for two of those noms, for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs). Honestly, I could even see a world where Desplat wins his third Oscar for this score (which was nominated for a Hollywood Media in Music Award just last week) – the category has no clear frontrunner right now, and it’s just that good.
Best Original Song
Did you know Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a musical? Yup, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a MUSICAL. Naturally, our Oscar-obsessed brains then start thinking about what song the film will submit for Best Original Song consideration, and thankfully, that choice seems to have already been made. In mid-October, it was announced that Netflix will be putting the poignant “Ciao Papa” forward as their pick (which features music by Alexandre Desplat and lyrics by Roeban Katz and Guillermo del Toro – del Toro’s debut as a songwriter), with del Toro saying that, “To me, it is hands down the most moving song in the film, and the most important song. It talks about longing, it talks about the loss of a father, the loss of a son. It talks about the sort of wistful energy that, for me, is at the core of the tale of Pinocchio” (and having seen the film, I can confirm this is the undeniable emotional standout). The Best Original Song category can throw us a curveball every now and then, but since it’s as friendly to animated features as Best Original Score (50 nominations, 12 wins) – and since “Ciao Papa” has already earned a Hollywood Media in Music Award nomination – I feel comfortable putting it in the top five, and it could be win competitive as well, depending on if voters solidify around a pop princess to award or not (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s Rihanna or Top Gun: Maverick‘s Lady Gaga).
Best Visual Effects
Though Guillermo del Toro‘s Pinocchio is a stop-motion animated feature, there were still extensive visual effects that were used to bring this story to life – as this brilliant behind-the-scenes featurette can attest – and it’s this marriage of practical and digital art that could draw the attention of The Academy’s visual effects branch, particularly if this team pulls off a terrific presentation later on this season. The detail of the craft on display is simply staggering, and it’s not solely attributable to one production department – all teams worked in tandem to pull this artistically audacious picture off, and the visual effects artists deserve just as much praise as those who worked more practically day-to-day. Plus, there is a precedent for this nomination. Three animated films have been nominated for Best Visual Effects before – 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings, and 2019’s The Lion King – and Pinocchio feels right at home alongside The Nightmare Before Christmas and Kubo and the Two Strings as another stop-motion animated feature that still skillfully used visual effects to bring its vibrant artistic vision to life (and honestly, outside Avatar: The Way of Water, this category remains in flux this year, so there is room).
The one you’ve all been waiting for! Yes, I agree with many, many others that Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio absolutely has a shot at landing a Best Picture nod. It’s listed a bit lower than some other categories because I do believe it could receive recognition from certain branches of The Academy (those of the “artsier” variety) and still miss out here, but at a certain point, if so many branches are going to bat for you, you have to stand a strong shot at getting into Best Picture too – especially in a field of ten – right? Only three animated films have pulled off this feat before (and all were from Disney) – 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, 2009’s Up, and 2010’s Toy Story 3, with the latter two also benefitting from fields of ten – and they did have the advantage of being massive money-makers, but never doubt the campaigning prowess of Netflix. They’ve gotten a film into Best Picture every year since 2018 (and two in 2019, 2020, and 2021), and since they don’t have a clear pick to push this season yet (Glass Onion could be “too populist,” BARDO has been labeled “too impenetrable,” etc.), perhaps it’s Pinocchio. Not only does it have the potential to land noms in several other Oscar categories, but it’s an enormously emotional affair debuting at the end of the year that almost everyone is sure to watch (in the industry and outside of it, as families will most definitely make it a holiday staple this December), and let’s circle back to how beloved Guillermo del Toro is, getting Nightmare Alley in last season despite its underperformance at almost every other ceremony. It’s not a sure thing in Best Picture yet – it’s a competitive year – but love for the film (both for its visual and thematic excellence), GDT, and its message about animation being art could push it through.
Best Adapted Screenplay
It might feel odd to have Pinocchio‘s chances in Best Adapted Screenplay listed below its chances in Best Picture, but hear me out. I 100% believe that Pinocchio stands a strong chance at scoring a nomination in this category – as stated earlier, this is no “normal” retelling of this story, but instead a thematically rich reinvention that places it in a new sociocultural context, and animated features have historically done well in the screenplay categories if they’re successful elsewhere (seven have earned Best Original Screenplay nods, two have made it into Adapted) – but I can’t quite see Pinocchio popping up here unless it’s also in Picture. Some animated films have pulled this off before (Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Inside Out, etc.) but you can make the case those films would’ve been in Best Picture had the category had ten nominees. Pinocchio is co-written by a prior nominee (Guillermo del Toro, who was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water) alongside Over the Garden Wall’s Patrick McHale in his feature film debut, so it’s got some pedigree going for it, but even in a weak year for the Best Adapted Screenplay category, my gut tells me that Pinocchio would have to have its best day (breaking into Best Picture) to pop up here too – but it’s certainly a contender to keep an eye on.
Across all sound categories (since these categories have seen separation and consolidation multiple times throughout Oscar history), animated films have earned 18 nominations, so one may wonder why I’m seemingly so low on Pinocchio’s chances here. To be fair, I’m not counting it out whatsoever – everyone should have it in their top ten contenders for this category, especially since animated films that do well in the score and song categories tend to show up here as well (Aladdin, Up, and most recently, Soul) – but I do think it could be difficult for Pinocchio to pop into a Best Sound category with only five nominees, since there are no longer awards for editing and mixing, and this year, there are a lot of bigger blockbusters in contention (Top Gun: Maverick, All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, and The Batman, among others). Soul pulled this off two years ago, but it was competing during COVID, when there was a bit more wiggle room since a lot of the “big” movies had been delayed. There’s a lot of sound to show off in Pinocchio – it’s a musical set during wartime, so you do the math – but the competition could sadly crowd it out.
Best Production Design
Every few years, there’s an artfully crafted stop motion animated feature that we all hope will break into the Best Production Design category (Kubo and the Two Strings, Isle of Dogs, etc.) but it never does – in fact, no animated feature ever has. Pinocchio could absolutely be the one to breakthrough, especially if there is a groundswell of support for the film’s “animation is art” campaign that urges voters to consider animated feature films in every single Oscar category, but since, historically, there’s no path for it yet, I’d say this is the least likely category for it to contend in. But, as with every other crafts category, there’s simply so much to show off that it may not matter. The artistry in Pinocchio is so undeniable – particularly in the sumptuous sets they practically created – that it might just make history.
In a just world, I also feel that Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson should be taken seriously as Best Director contenders (watch one scene from Pinocchio and try telling me that their consummate control of every technical and thematic element on display isn’t Oscar-worthy), but for now, this is what I see for Pinocchio’s Oscar future, though, as always, I’m welcome to being surprised – especially for a film this full of feeling and frenetic creativity. And no matter how The Academy responds, it’s just a joy that GDT and co have gifted us with this empowering and existentially affecting epic for the ages that has undeniably advanced the animation medium in more ways than one.