After 15 years in the making and nearly 1,000 days in production, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio finally arrives on Netflix this weekend.

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But if you're expecting something similar to the light-hearted and whimsical Disney musical then turn away now – this dark and beautiful film uses the familiar story as a vehicle to discuss universal themes of grief, displacement, and death.

The adaptation was inspired during a night del Toro spent drinking with Gabriel García Márquez in Brazil, when the late novelist explained to the director a theory he had regarding some of the most enduring characters in literature.

“He said there were 10 characters in the history of literature that can be interpreted in any way they want, including Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein, Pinocchio, and the Count of Monte Cristo," Del Toro explained during a discussion with RadioTimes.com and other press.

"He said you could use them for symbols of many, many different things. You can put them in space, you can make them president, you can put them in a political or financial context. Anything. I thought that was incredibly liberating."

This idea gave del Toro the freedom to navigate away from previous versions of the character and focus on themes and ideas that he was really concerned with.

"For me, there is Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, there is Walt Disney’s Pinocchio and then there’s Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio," he explained. "To me, the interesting thing is can I make a Pinocchio that celebrates disobedience, as opposed to celebrating obedience? Can I make a Pinocchio in which he doesn’t have to turn into a real boy because he was obedient at the end?"

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One of the most unique and interesting aspects of the adaptation is that the movie is set against the backdrop of fascist Italy in the 1930s, which ensures the film is thematically similar to the director's previous works Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, both of which also explore childhood merging with war and violence.

Talking about this creative decision, del Toro explained: “The movie is about fatherhood, being a father or being a son – and in those iterations, fascism seems to be concerned with a father figure of a different kind and the desire to deliver ourselves to a father that unifies the thought.

“I was very interested in making it in a time where everybody behaves like a puppet except the puppet. The puppet seems to have more clarity about what he should or shouldn’t do than the adults around him.”

The stellar ensemble of voice actors that bring the characters to life includes huge names like Christoph Waltz, Ewan McGregor and Finn Wolfhard, and del Toro said he designed and wrote a lot of the characters with these voice actors in mind, with a couple of notable exceptions.

"After we had just finished filming Nightmare Alley, Cate Blanchett came up to me and said she’d like to work together again and asked if there were any characters left to voice on Pinocchio," he said. "I said there was only a baboon and she said ‘I’ll take it!'"

Although del Toro says that "stop-motion is the closest thing that adults get to [playing] with toys," the process was a rather painstaking one. The film is shot at 24 frames per second, and one shot took an astounding three weeks to capture – but putting real care and into the process was something that was deeply important to the director.

"It got to a point over the last 20 years where it has moved to a point, technically and philosophically, where it was almost indistinguishable from CG animation," he said of stop-motion. "We wanted the immediacy of a set that you know was carved, sculpted and aged in a way that was manually done.

"When you tackle a form, whatever it is, you try to not do what everyone else is doing but exactly what no one else is doing because it is much more rewarding. I have been a contrarian for 30 years and I intend to continue.”

When shooting a live-action movie there can be moments of spontaneity that are unplanned and happen in the spur of the moment, but this is not something that is possible with the meticulous craft of stop-motion.

"Nothing is going to happen in front of the camera, you have to provoke it," he said. "Everything from the wind to moving the hair, [and] stumbles to the rugs on the floor.

“You are creating an entire universe for the lens to capture. There’s nothing that exists neither as a material thing nor as a movement or life; these are all inanimate objects with articulation.”

Despite all the challenges and setbacks, it looks like del Toro hasn't been put off a return to stop-motion animation somewhere in the future. When asked if he would make another film this way, he responded simply: "Absolutely, f**k yeah!"

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio will land on Netflix on Friday 9th December. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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