Movie review: Live-action remake of ‘Pinocchio’ debuts on Disney+

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Disney continues to revisit its animated classics as source material for live-action films. These include 101 Dalmatians (with a sequel and a prequel), Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty (Maleficentwith his quirky point of view), Cinderella, The beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King, the Lady and the Trampand Mulane. Most received mixed reactions, but that didn’t stem the tide. Added to this list is the new Pinocchionow streaming on Disney+.

Cynthia Erivo is the blue fairy in ‘Pinocchio’

Pinocchio has its origins in the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. Italian writer Carlo Collodi wrote about a Tuscan woodcarver named Geppetto who creates a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. The name “Pinocchio” is a combination of the Italian words pino (pine) and occhio (eye). The character’s iconography and adventures bridge three centuries: the puppet dreams of being, endowed with spirit guides, and a nose that grows when he lies (occurring only once in the novel).

by Disney Pinocchio (1940) rightly deserves the distinction of “masterpiece”. Pinocchiothe suite of studios Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), is matched only by its predecessor. Three years in the making, Pinocchio was a critical success. write in The Hollywood Reporter, the anonymous author described the film in glowing terms: “…the picture is a masterpiece that sets another milestone on the road to screen entertainment…. a new source of joy for which [the creators] deserve and will receive the gratitude of millions who see it.

A scene from Disney’s “Pinocchio”.

Pinocchio has been seen on the big and small screen nearly two dozen times. Actors have included Sandy Duncan’s Pinocchio, Paul Reubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman), Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Roberto Benigni. The Geppettos include Burl Ives, Danny Kaye, Martin Landau, Carl Reiner and Drew Carey. Additionally, a host of famous actors have appeared in supporting roles.

For the new incarnation, director Robert Zemeckis co-adapted the screenplay with Chris Weitz, but the entire film feels like a scene-by-scene remake of the original. Where it attempts to find something new, the substitution does nothing to improve the storytelling. Instead, he’s different for his own good.

A few new elements are introduced to the plot but add little to the overall effect, even the best moments falling short. “Clever” touches are recognized – cuckoo clocks with Disney images (White as snow, Roger Rabbit, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) – but seem slightly out of place. The mix of live actors and CGI makes it look like “real” people are traveling through a virtual reality application.

Tom Hanks is Gepetto, Disney’s “Pinocchio”

The story remains the same. Inventor Geppetto shapes Pinocchio and wishes for a star. The puppet then finds himself tricked into various dangerous scenarios: meeting the fox and the cat who sell him to Stromboli, the evil puppeteer; the journey to Pleasure Island where children are turned into donkeys and sold; being swallowed by a sea monster; etc Pinocchio’s spirit guides are, of course, Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy.

Tom Hanks makes a heartfelt Geppetto, a grieving widower for his wife and son. He infuses the character with a deep goodness intertwined with a fragile and broken soul. He puts a smile on the puppet so that he is “always happy”. The image of her leaving to find Pinocchio, packing her beloved cat, Figaro, and cradling her beloved fish, Cleo, is touching. One could wish Hanks’ makeup was a little less extreme, with bushy hair, a mustache and eyebrows worthy of their own ZIP code.

Cynthia Erivo makes a beautiful blue fairy fully present. The voice work is good, with Benjamin Evan Ainsworth’s sweet and never-sweet Pinocchio. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives Jiminy Cricket a southern flavor but expresses concern as the puppet’s conscience. Lorraine Bracco (a friendly seagull) and Keegan-Michael Key, as Honest John, the asshole fox, are fine if a little note.

The heart of the story remains to be “real”, it is to be brave, honest and selfless. Although stated clearly, the concept sometimes gets lost in visual noise. The rhythm is irregular and often slow. The comic violence (Stromboli locking Pinocchio in a case) seems awfully vicious. Jokes referring to Chris Pine, agents, taxes, and curriculum don’t land nearly as much as the thump. The original music is oddly used and slipped in, almost like spoken verse, and new songs by Alan Silvestri unfortunately fail to improve the film. At the end, Pinocchio looks like light beer and water: all the same but less.

Upcoming and in development, live-action versions of The little MermaidPeter Pan (as Peter Pan and Wendy), White as snow, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The sword in the stone, Robin Hood, Bambi, The Aristocatsand lilo and stitch as well as sequels The Lion King (Mufasa: The Lion King), Aladdin, The jungle Bookand Cruel. With the track record of previous adaptations, one has to wonder, other than money, what Disney hopes to gain.

Rated PG, Pinocchio is now streaming on Disney+.

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