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The Passion of Storytelling Traditions in Guillermo del Toro Films

By David Young · February 27, 2023

The Passion of Storytelling Traditions in Guillermo del Toro Films_featured

Guillermo del Toro is known for his respect for production design, his love of monsters, and his approach to horror genre elements. Despite the numerous elements present in his stories, their connection to folklore and fables is the most significant aspect shared across all of them. At their root, Guillermo del Toro films stand out because they bring legendary worldbuilding to the forefront, using oral storytelling or legendary creatures as an acute window into what he wants to show his audience. 

All of the films mentioned below showcase his remarkable connection to fables, whether they are established tales from the past or freshly minted stories of his imagination. Let’s uncover the magic and mystery of Guillermo del Toro films.

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Pan’s Labyrinth

One Guillermo del Toro film that shows his love of the storytelling tradition is Pan’s Labyrinth. In itself, this film starts with a fable and later becomes the fulfillment of its implied prophecy. This reliance on story to set the stage isn’t the only fantastical element in this tale though. Imagined monsters like the Pale Man to classic creatures of legend like fauns or fairies, the characters in this film stand out as a clear separator for Ofelia as she experiences a world that is clearly not her own.

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This story’s roots in Mike Mignola’s original comic book series shouldn’t be overlooked. Guillermo del Toro clearly thought as much when he wrote the screenplay for the 2004 film, retaining Hellboy’s mystique in the supervillain Rasputin, sardonic attitude of the hero himself, and the folkloric and biblical references that amount to something new altogether. 

However, del Toro clearly couldn’t help but insert more of his own quirks: adding symbolic labyrinths once again, as well as things like more interconnection between his characters’ origins for added depth. His research into the Third Reich’s occult obsessions became the ideal basis for the story moving forward, so much so that this love letter to Mignola’s own work has a distinct flavor to it.

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Crimson Peak

Beginning once again with a story being told, Crimson Peak is a romance film that takes a page or two out of gothic horror. And yes, you can smell the Dracula vibes from here. Starting with a visit from a ghostly mother, the film then focuses on the career of a writer and heiress named Edith. She gets swept off her feet by an English baronet and inventor, Thomas, and she soon joins him and his sister in their manse, half in ruins. 

As she delves further into the truth of Crimson Peak, her new home, Edith is visited by more ghosts and more hints to the dark past Thomas and his sister seem to be hiding. Even the ending of this film makes use of this very Victorian theme of twisted devotion, doomed love, and ultimately, a transformation for the better that is the cornerstone of any love story.

Read More: Crimson Peak Review: Del Toro’s Waltz of Crime and Blood

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Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

There needn’t be much said about the fact that del Toro wanted to put his own stamp on Pinocchio. Pinocchio is a classic (and quite disturbing) story that’s been retold over a century and a half, it’s only right that someone in love with storytelling would want to take it on. Naturally, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio visits darker ideas than the Disney film we all remember from long ago. He reimagines Pinocchio’s life in the turmoil of World Wars I and II, also addressing the concept of immortality with a cruel spin. 

With an abusive circus showman, conscription boot camps, and the burden of watching his family and friends die, Pinocchio is not a story to take lightly, despite its whimsical stop-motion style. Instead, it’s family-friendly but with a gothic appreciation for realism, which is fitting for the story’s real theme: a father growing to love what he’s unwittingly created.

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Hellboy II: The Golden Army

From the prophetic origins of this film’s titular character we can glean the elegant importance of oral storytelling. From the way del Toro handles the beasts and beings we come across throughout the movie, it’s clear he had fun with Mignola’s source material once again. Whether it’s his presentation of the Angel of Death, the Lovecraftian entities in the secret market, or the opening scene, a love for storytelling and legends is clear in every minute of this epic movie.

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Nightmare Alley

Rather than legends, the stories that Stan and others in this film deal with are secrets. Secrets like fake mentalism and skeletons in the closet cause more strife — even murder — when all is said and done. That’s the danger of being a con artist in the company of other such masters. The way del Toro approaches this is with a keen neo-noir style and a dark comedy voice, creating a story all its own that uniquely presents the narrative from the original novel.

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Pacific Rim

The force of tradition that is the kaiju film lives on in del Toro’s Pacific Rim, ultimately inspired by the original Japanese films about Godzilla as well as mecha anime featuring the Jaegers, whose immense robotic forms are too much for one person to control. This film delves into primal ideas like banding together for survival, while instilling a careful love for the audience through acts like the depiction of the city being evacuated before it’s ravaged by these otherworldly creatures. 

Again, the branding of these kaiju marks del Toro’s fascination with all things supernatural — for example, bioweapons from interdimensional aliens. In that way, he continues to honor his love for storytelling traditions and urban legends, by adopting and portraying the live-action kaiju-and-mecha-anime crossover we all wanted to see.

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The Shape of Water

More fantasy pervades real life in The Shape of Water, where del Toro’s reimagining of Creature from the Black Lagoon is also a love story and a pervasive depiction of destructive secret-keeping. This tale surrounds a legendary creature that proves to be true. Revered in its own habitat as a river god by the locals, now brought to the lowly position of a prisoner until a woman named Elisa falls in love with him. We then start to see why he’s considered a god in his homeland, with astounding powers and allure that captivate Elisa and the audience alike.

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The power of Guillermo del Toro films comes from his respect for storytelling as a tradition. Whether it’s urban legend, historical folklore, biblical tales, or something entirely new, he shares his love for the art form by creating narratives that have their own mythologies, as well as their own thematic definitions. If you’re a fan of symbolism, worldbuilding, and the adoption of new ways to tell old stories, read Guillermo del Toro’s scripts to learn for yourself why del Toro does it best.

Scripts from this Article