‘Pinocchio’: Alexandre Desplat on the use of only wooden instruments


To capture the essence of “Pinocchio” by Guillermo del Toro, on Netflix on December 9, composer Alexandre Desplat had an ingenious idea: a score performed only with wooden instruments.

“I always like to find a set of instruments that reflects the film or the soul of the film”, says the composer Variety as he shares two exclusive clues from the film. “Geppetto is a carpenter and Pinocchio is made of wood.”

Desplat takes a break. “Wait, a second,” he said on our Zoom call before leaving the room. When he returns, he raises a wooden figurine of Pinocchio to the screen.

“That little wooden boy, as they called him in the movie – I thought using wooden instruments would do something different than just having a symphony orchestra,” Desplat says, playing with the puppet. miniature in his hands.

“I’m sure no one notices, which is good. We don’t want anyone to say, ‘Oh, it’s wood!’ when they listen to music,” he laughs.

From an assortment of wind and percussion instruments to a piano, mandolin and guitar, Desplat thinks “it was a good challenge for me to find another sound”, adding that there is a “sweetness” to the sound of wood.

“There are no timpani. There are no cymbals,” explains Desplat. “The accordion is also made of wood… So that’s the idea. It’s that simple.”

Desplat last worked with del Toro on “The Shape of Water” in 2017, which earned him his second Academy Award for Best Original Score. For “Pinocchio,” the composer collaborated for the first time with del Toro on a collection of original songs.

“It’s like a Lego game. There’s a big castle to be built because there’s this story of amazing songwriters for film and animation ahead of us – from the Sherman Brothers, Richard Rodgers, to so many great songwriters,” says Desplat. about his work with lyricist Roeban Katz and director-screenwriter. “So you try to have a conversation with the past, and at the same time you try to play with this Lego castle that you have in front of you and build the most beautiful object possible.”

For the song “Ciao Papa”, it was essential to incorporate glimpses of Pinocchio’s innocence into a “very sad and utterly melancholic moment”.

“It’s farewell to childhood, farewell to his new home he has just discovered, farewell to his father — who still doesn’t know how to love him,” says Desplat. “So in the first draft we had all the elements that are in the song – and then with Katz we added a little more innocence and poetry.”

Desplat also decided to create a melody for “Ciao Papa” that “any child could sing”. “The combination of these two words – ‘Ciao’, which is Italian, and ‘Papa’, which works in any language – I felt that if the melody was as simple as these two words, it would be very easy to remember and catch for anyone.

Over the melody of “The Pine Cone”, Desplat sought to capture Geppetto’s grief at a pivotal moment in the film. “He loses his child, and it’s a very heavy moment,” he said. “So it had to be dramatic, and at the same time, extremely moving without being exaggerated or too romantic… It’s hard to find the music of mourning. It’s such a deep pain.

Although Geppetto’s son, Carlo, appeared on screen for a limited time, Desplat says that “emotionally, he is at the center of the whole story”.

“Pinocchio is Carlo – he’s the reincarnation of Carlo. And it takes the whole movie for Geppetto to admit that Pinocchio is his son replacing Carlo,” he explains. “That’s what Geppetto wants, he wants to find his grandson whom he lost during the First World War.” Therefore, for “Carlo’s Theme”, the composer decided to make the melody the same for both characters.

“It’s not just Carlo’s theme. It’s the theme of the little boy, the lost soul — and the hope you have for your children to one day become another person,” Desplat says. “As Pinocchio becomes Geppetto’s son, the theme takes over and becomes Pinocchio’s theme.”

While Desplat considers the stop-motion feature to be a “movie with songs,” he’s optimistic that “Pinocchio” will “one day become a musical.”

“I think, that would be great. We have a nice way to extend the movie,” he says. “But so far, it’s a movie with a lot of songs… [and] they’re not too long, so they don’t impact the basis of the film or the basis of the story. I think there’s a good balance between the songs and the storytelling.

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