A film review by Craig J. Koban September 20, 2022



2022, PG, 105 mins.

Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Pinocchio (voice)  /  Tom Hanks as Geppetto  /  Luke Evans as The Coachman  /  Cynthia Erivo as Blue Fairy  /  Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy Cricket (voice)  /  Keegan Michael Key as 'Honest' John (voice)  /  Lorraine Bracco as Sofia the Seagull (voice)  /  Kyanne Lamaya as Fabiana  /  Jaquita Ta'le as Sabina (voice)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis  /  Written by Chris Weitz and Simon Farnaby



"Well... [coughs] Here we go again..."

- Jiminy Cricket in PINOCCHIO (1940)


The more I thought about Disney’s live action PINOCCHIO remake after streaming it (it ain't playing in cinemas, folks!) the more frustrated I got.  

The original 1940 classic - just Disney's second animated feature ever at that point - remains an untouchable classic and a masterstroke work that was then unparalleled for its pioneering artistry.  The notion that anyone - including the House of Mouse - would ever think that remaking it beat for beat in live action form and with the latest advancements in CGI technology would somehow (a) be warranted and (b) improve upon what has come before is a supreme fool's errand.  In what seems to be a never-ending quest to milk their established properties for money versus intrepidly and audaciously creating news ones for contemporary consumption, Disney seems hell bent on looking back as opposed to forward.  They have made many highly polarizing and problematic live action iterations of their iconic hand drawn animated film catalogue, with DUMBO, ALADDIN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and THE LION KING coming dubiously to mind.  Now comes PINOCCHIO, which is inexplicably from the director/star tandem of Oscar winners Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks (their first live action partnership in over twenty years).  Shockingly, their update of this classic fairy tale - which, in term, was adapted from the 1883 Italian's children novel - proves to be a nonsensically awful affair.   

This is a hopelessly safe, pedestrian, soulless, and ultimately cynical minded project on a creative level, and one that A-listers like Zemeckis and Hanks really have no business collaborating on.  The worst sin, though, of this remake is that it does nothing fresh and novel with the very cherished source material, outside of some cosmetic upgrades and some minor tweaks to the overall narrative thrust.  What's the point of a remake if it's just lazily regurgitating what came before wholesale?  Obviously, one has to respect and pay homage to the original while doing something unique with the underlining material.  PINOCCHIO is high on using the latest advancements in VFX technology, to be fair, but there's simply no heart whatsoever to be found here.  Emotionally and dramatically, this PINOCCHIO is as wooden as its titular character.  It's also proof positive that no amount of high tech computer effects can match or replace the infinite charm of a painstakingly hand crafted 2D animated feature that came out eighty-plus years ago. 

Nothing in this remake in terms of storytelling should come of no surprise whatsoever to anyone even vaguely familiar with the original.  There's Geppetto the woodworker (Hanks, in a mostly embarrassing turn, broadly playing more of a caricature than a real person) has just lost his wife and son, which leads to him living vicariously - and some might aptly say unhealthily - through his latest wooden puppet that he dubs Pinocchio.  All he wishes for is that his creation becomes a real boy and fill the hole in his heart that was left by his deceased son.  One night in steps the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo), and she quite easily grants Geppetto's request while he's sleeping, and when the tradesmen awakens in the morning he's shocked to see that his wooden boy has, in fact, come to life (voiced by Ben Ainsworth).  Geppetto wants Pinocchio to have a life as normal as any other child, so he decides to ship him off to school, but along the way he's stopped by a two-bit crook, Honest John the Fox (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), who tricks the new lad into the promise of super stardom at Stromboli's (Giuseppe Battiston) puppet show.  Unfortunately and tragically for poor Pinocchio, he's all but reduced to a caged slave, which leads to Geppetto springing into action and launching a search and rescue mission.  Oh, and we also have the insect sized Jiminy Cricket (voiced decently by a fairly unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who previously worked with Zemeckis on the terribly underrated THE WALK) serving as a narrator and concerned onlooker to all of these dreadful events. 



To say that this new PINOCCHIO is a - cough, cough - "live action" film is more than a bit misleading.  With the possible exception of a few human characters and a small handful of what I'm assuming are practical sets, I'd wager that 90 per cent of what's on screen here is pure CG make-believe.  In defense of PINOCCHIO, though, labeling it as live action is not as egregiously false as doing the same with the 100 per cent CG animated THE LION KING, but you get my drift here.  The effects are spiffy and polished, yes, but there's no ethereal spark or magic to them.  Pinocchio himself looks pretty much exactly as he was envisioned in the 1940 version (granted, in CG form, he looks more creepily vacant eyed and woefully lacking in the expression/personality department than ever before), as do the other animal based characters (Jiminy Cricket appears more insect-like, which may prove off-putting to some and is not altogether an improvement).   Geppetto's pet kitten Figaro - so wonderfully spirited and full of life in the 40's film - is such a phony looking CG concoction here that his interactions with Hanks distract more than delight.  It's clear that Disney was not attempting to make any sizable changes with this property to creatively change things up on a visual level, and all we're really left with is Zemeckis himself - an extraordinarily gifted cinematic visualist if his past films have anything to say - trying to impart some memorable stylistic flair into the proceedings.  The Academy Award winning filmmaker's fingerprints are depressingly nowhere to be seen throughout PINOCCHIO, mostly because these live action Disney adaptations have such an assembly line, committee-led blandness to them all.  If you didn't tell me that Zemeckis directed PINOCCHIO before I went into it - and I went into it completely blind - then I would have been utterly shocked when I saw his name on the end credits.  

There are some changes made to "modernize" PINOCCHIO, if I can even decree it as such.  When Pinocchio and his child companions are being thrust into the sinful pleasures of Pleasure Island in the original they were given cigars and beer...but this time there's no smoking and root beer replaces the real thing.  Beyond the obvious sanitizing efforts here, the unnerving edge to the original PINOCCHIO is almost DOA in this new film.  The 1940 version had a strong element of danger and was legitimately terrifying in places.  The overall morality tale in the first PINOCCHIO is definitely present here, but compared to the nightmare fuel elements of being turned into a donkey and having to fend off deeply creepy coach driving child kidnappers from before, the retooled version here is scandalously lacking in suspense and scares.  We do get some new verbal zingers thrown in (like one would-be uproarious gag involving a Chris Pine name drop, which dreadfully takes one out of the film completely) and a few scattershot alterations here and there, but so much of PINOCCHIO redux is an inert and uninspired shell of what has lovingly came several decades ago.  By the time the film reached its climax involving a seafaring expedition and a pesky giant whale, one is left with an overwhelming sensation that the makers have failed to drum up any rational motivation for making this film. The obvious motivation is, yup, money, but because Disney unceremoniously dumped this directly to streaming on Disney+ as opposed to giving it a wide theatrical release (or even granting it a massive marketing campaign) says an awful lot about their very internal confidence on this product's worth. 

I re-watched the animated PINOCCHIO recently before watching Zemeckis' remake and I was continually floored by the former's daring conceptual imagination and by what a watershed animated achievement it was...and remains.  It reaffirmed why Disney was ultimately poised for industry greatness moving forward as a pioneering trailblazer that bucked status quos.  Flashforward eight decades and this same company - using a metaphor that I've frankly repeated far too many times in reviews of these films - is just re-heating leftovers from the past and passing them on to modern moviegoers as new, state of the art cuisines.  It's frankly a depressing state of affairs.  I've responded with mostly indifference to many of these Disney live action appropriations so far (hell, I even liked a few, most notably PETE'S DRAGON, which was one of the finest remakes period of recent memory), but somehow I feel that the studio has crossed an unpardonable line with PINOCCHIO.  They have made many unnecessary live action redos of their animated classics, but this one seems pathetically garish and lifeless.  Pinocchio himself may have become a real boy via magic, but this is barely a real film with almost no magic in it. 



No, I have not forgotten about Guillermo del Toro's PINOCCHIO that's coming out this year as well on Netflix in December.  His film will not be live action and instead will be a stop motion animated endeavor and will hone in more on the literary source material for inspiration.  That, and his film will be set in 1930's fascist Italy.  That sounds like an endlessly fascinating and gutsy approach to re-telling the PINOCCHIO mythos, completely unlike Disney's sluggish copy and past effort.  

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