A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Throughout his career, Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro has firmly established himself as modern cinema's master of the macabre, with films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water garnering all sorts of justified acclaim (including a Best Picture Oscar for the latter).

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Now – along with co-director Mark Gustafson – he's brought his distinctive style to a tale that will be extremely familiar to most viewers, and one which he himself has long professed as being a key influence on his work: Carlo Collodi’s iconic 1883 fable Pinocchio.

The good news for del Toro devotees is that although the story of the wooden boy has been adapted for the screen many times before in myriad different forms – including a dire "live-action" Disney remake earlier this year – this stop-motion version is enough of a departure from previous films to stand on its own, with the director's unmistakable stamp visible in just about every frame.

This is a wondrous, poetic adaptation full of charm and darkness in equal measure – in other words, more or less exactly what you'd want from a film titled Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio.

The first change del Toro makes to the source material – and arguably the most significant – is to transpose the action to Benito Mussolini's fascist Italy in the 1930s. This allows the film to intelligently explore themes of rebellion and war against a chilling and ominous backdrop, one that is in keeping with the Spanish Civil War setting of Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone, with which this film can be said to form a sort of spiritual trilogy.

The deeply moving opening segment introduces us to an unspeakable heartbreak suffered by woodcarver Geppetto (David Bradley), and it is out of this anguish that he decides to craft the titular puppet – which is later brought to life following the interjection of a spirit.

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Beginning the film in this way allows the story to be more than just a musing on what it means to be human, as has been the case in other versions, but also a thoughtful treatise on grief and death. These themes are handled with appropriate sensitivity and care by the directors, ensuring that it's a hopeful film rather than simply a morbid one.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. Netflix

The gentle voice performances are impressive across the board, with relative newcomer Gregory Mann shining in the title role and Bradley bringing a world-weariness to Geppetto, but it is Ewan McGregor who is the star of the show – the Obi-Wan Kenobi star turning in a delightful performance as the talking cricket who serves as our narrator and Pinocchio's conscience.

Named Sebastian J Cricket rather than Jiminy as is the case in the famous Disney animation, this version of the creature is a little different from the one we're used to, and the nature of his relationship with Pinocchio is also slightly altered.

This is the case across the board. The film might hit many of the same beats as other versions – there is a malevolent character who tries to hoodwink Pinocchio into straying from his path, for example, and the puppet's nose still grows when he displays even a hint of dishonesty – but it never feels too predictable, bringing a refreshingly unique perspective to almost every angle of the story.

It's no surprise that the animation is also stunning throughout, especially in the sequences where the directors lean into the source novel’s surrealism. There are all sorts of memorable sequences and unusual images – both disturbing and beautiful – and the film very much has a hand-crafted feel.

Meanwhile, the spellbinding atmosphere is further enhanced by Alexandre Desplat’s terrific score and the handful of original songs written for the production – the highlight of which is the wonderful Ciao Papa.

Del Toro has spoken at length about Pinocchio’s influence on his life and career, and this intricately-designed film has the feel of a real passion project – it's a far more personal and soulful take on the story than the aforementioned Disney release from earlier in the year, and stands as one of the very best adaptations of this timeless tale.

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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