He’s already won Academy Awards for directing and producing. And now Guillermo del Toro is hoping to win a songwriting Oscar.
del Toro is part of the songwriting team behind the music of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. del Toro directs his warm and wild stop-motion animated adaptation of the classic story from Carlo Collodi with Mark Gustafson.
It’s a project the Oscar-winning filmmaker has nurtured for years, and he also co-wrote the screenplay with Patrick McHale.
The film makes its world premiere at the London Film Festival on Saturday.
the project marks del Toro’s debut outing as a songwriter, too. The musical film features several numbers with music by Alexandre Desplat—who won his second Oscar for his score for del Toro’s The Shape of Water—and lyrics by Roeban Katz and del Toro.
Songs are performed by the cast including David Bradley, Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, and Gregory Mann, the young actor cast as Pinocchio.
Mann performs the song “Ciao Papa” that Netflix will submit to the Academy for consideration in the Best Original Song category at this year’s Oscars. It comes at a crucial turning point in the narrative and reinforces the father-son theme that runs throughout the film.
“To me, it is hands down the most moving song in the film, and the most important song,” del Toro says. “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.”
Desplat tells me that the song stands apart from the other musical numbers in the film because it is the only one not interwoven into the score. “I kept it as a little moment on its own, the most emotional moment of the film,” Desplat says. “I wanted it to be a unique moment. It’s a very strong relationship between father and son, Pinocchio and Gepetto. It’s a sweet and emotional moment, and I think the lyrics say everything.”
del Toro had tinkered with songwriting in the past, writing songs in high school that he never mustered the courage to perform publicly. A decade ago, plans were announced to adapt Pan’s Labyrinth into a stage musical, with book by del Toro and Jeremy Ungar, music by Gustavo Sataolalla and lyrics by Paul Williams. “I tried my hand at suggesting some ideas to Paul Williams, who rightly refused them immediately,” he says. That project is still active, with veteran British producer Robert Fox, del Toro notes.
It was the close collaboration del Toro had with Alexandre Desplat on The Shape of Water that convinced him he could contribute here. “To speak candidly, I rarely used to go to scoring sessions for my films,” del Toro says. “I felt it was unnecessary, because what was I going to say? I’m not a composer. But on The Shape of Water, Alexandre said to me, ‘If you don’t come, the score will not be complete.’ And sure enough, I learned to direct the session—partially at least—to be able to say things like, ‘More expressive, less expressive, more precise, a little less precise.’ And it completely changes the nature of a tune.”
For Pinocchio—the songs for which Desplat, “with a lot of modesty”, likens to the musical stylings of Cole Porter and George Gershwin—the composer suggested assembling an orchestra of wooden instruments. “Wooden percussion, like xylophones and marimbas, and the woodwinds, the strings, the harp, piano, accordion, mandolin, guitar. The panel was huge, and I could really play around with that and create something a bit special.”
“Alexandre said, ‘Fortunately for you and me, French horns are classified as wooden instruments in France,’” laughs del Toro. “But it made sense for this story of a wooden boy.”
Desplat doubted del Toro’s insistence that Mann, then a preteen who had never sung professionally, could carry the weight of performing songs like “Ciao Papa”. “But when I first heard him, I was stunned,” Desplat says. “He already knew the melody, he was singing in tune. But, more importantly, the interpretation was there. He was acting the soul of the character in the song. We could have had another boy—a singer—singing the melody, and that would be great, but he was giving us more than that.”
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio streams on Netflix from December 9 after a theatrical release in November. Columbia Records will release the soundtrack in the fall.