Synopsis – A puppet is brought to life by a fairy, who assigns him to lead a virtuous life in order to become a real boy.
My Take – There is no arguing with the fact that, despite being released 82 years ago, Disney‘s second animated feature film, Pinocchio, that was based on Carlo Collodi’s 1883 Italian children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, continues to remain widely present in popular culture and celebrated for its animation, themes and music.
Hence, it did not come as a surprise when a live-action remake was announced, something which has become a major staple of the studio, irrespective of their quality or simple basic demand. Yes, Maleficent (2014), The Jungle Book (2016) and Christopher Robin (2018) deserved appreciation for attempting a unique direction with the material, but none have managed to exceed what their 2D originals accomplished in terms of originality, visuals, or pure creativity, but came out seeming more like soulless, all CGI heavy carbon copies that exist only to act as cash cows for a studio, that seems determined to mine every ounce of nostalgic value of their time-tested assets.
And as one could have expected, this Disney+ release is unquestionably yet another mediocre entry that sadly also continues the slump of a once responsible filmmaker, Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Sure, while the film is certainly not entirely without its effective moments of splendor, yet, it somehow manage to take everything about the original and make it significantly worse, as every character and setting here is less expressive and vibrant than it was in 1940.
Though there are have been many unique versions created out of the same material (at least 65, with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro even releasing his own one later this year), like most Disney remakes this one too is just more of a recycle, that aside from the addition of a character called Fabiana and a slightly unexpected ending, does nothing to stand out, instead offering something that is completely drained of personality and any emotional resonance that made the original so memorable. This one is a massive creative failure from Disney, and we all know both know filmmaker Robert Zemeckis and Disney can do better than this.
Beginning in a small Italian village in the late 19th century, the story follows Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), a wooden puppet, who is carved by Geppetto (Tom Hanks), a kind and lonely woodworker, while mourning the loss of his own young son. Wishing upon a star that his creation might become real, Pinocchio is brought to life by the magic of The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo), but with a warning that in order for him to become a real boy, he must prove himself to be brave, unselfish, and true. Deputized as his temporary conscience, the earnest Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) promises to help Pinocchio achieve all those things despite lurking temptations.
However, it isn’t long before the good-natured wooden boy does find himself drawn to the allure of taking shortcuts and partaking in vices even though Jiminy tries to keep him on the right track. But drawn into a world of sinister characters, like Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston) and the Coachman (Luke Evans), Pinocchio ends up taking in a lot more than he can handle.
Though, co-screenwriters Zemeckis and Chris Weitz (Cinderella, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) try to adhere to the same structure, sequences, and original songs from 1940 animated feature, simply told, their film don’t work. I will admit they got some elements right, like the titular puppet does resemble the old animated version, the voices are very close to the original voice actors, and the songs are sang beautifully.
But in the end this one is a soulless creation, more of a mimicry of a classic that was made for everyone. Its strongest moments come when recreating the film that inspired it, but its attempts to expand that source material lead it into some truly dire terrain. While, they do make some attempts to dust off the concept, but the modernized moments further undermine their efforts. When they add empathy, the story loses its soul. And when they jam in easy updates, it just highlights how the rest of the script feels out of touch. The result is a schizophrenic, bland watch that feels like a big-budget film made only for young-lings.
Also, unlike in other versions of the story where Pinocchio has some level of agency and every misfortune that befalls him is the result of a decision he made ignoring his conscience, here, he has little to no agency in this story as the narrative pushes him towards these misadventures rather than letting him pursue them himself and it makes the episodes Pinocchio encounters far less character based because the misfortunes are no longer in service of teaching Pinocchio a lesson and have lost their original intended purpose.
For instance, when Pinocchio is sent to work for Stromboli, he does initially refuse the temptation, but it’s only after being kicked out of school for being a puppet that Pinocchio decides to accompany Honest John. A similar thing happens with the Pleasure Island episode where instead of him wanting to go to a land of no rules and excessive vice, he’s swiped up from the street against his will and guilt tripped into going and even when he does get there he looks pretty revolted by the display of misbehavior.
Making matters worse, there are long stretches where Jiminy isn’t even with him so why even have Jiminy in this film if Pinocchio can already tell right and wrong for himself? While the visuals are, at least, vibrant enough to keep kids watching, but of the many sins that the film commits, the hardest one to forgive is its complete inability to settle on a reason for existing.
Getting Tom Hanks to play Geppetto was an excellent creative decision, but his performance here seems like just another extension of his Elvis (2022) performance, playing a puppet master with an unconvincing European accent. It’s not good, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also hard to blame Hanks when he was given so little to work with. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth bring the necessary innocence to the character and does a neat job.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes an excellent Jiminy Cricket, while Giuseppe Battiston goes over the top with his act. Sadly, Kyanne Lamanne appears interesting for a while before disappearing entirely. In the brief moments she surfaces, she shows signs of potential, but is never allowed to develop on it. The same goes for Cynthia Erivo, Keegan-Michael Key and Luke Evans, who appear too briefly. On the whole, ‘Pinocchio’ is a flat, shallow and bland emotional adventure making it easily one of Disney‘s weakest live-action remakes.
Directed – Robert Zemeckis
Rated – PG
Run Time – 105 minutes