In recent years, Disney has taken on the assignment of re-imagining their classic animated films that built what the company is today. And by re-imagined, I mean turning their animated films into live action versions of them. Shot for shot, note for note, line for line, not much else is changed to the core of the story – minor formalities here and there. For the most part, it’s a hit or a miss and with the latest live action remake Pinocchio, based on the 1883 Italian children’s short story by author Carlo Collodi and the 1940 animated version Pinocchio, the live action version does nothing to inspire or re-capture the magic of the original animation.
Almost the entirety of the live action Pinocchio is an exact replica copy and pasted from the 1940 version, but with dazzling visual effects and added star power if the story wasn’t enough to draw eyes as a marketing ploy. However, there are noticeable differences to this version that has been changed for a more modern audience – dialogue is given a fresh coat of paint by co-writers Robert Zemeckis (who also directed) and Chris Weitz but it’s too hard a pill to swallow – not fitting into the world of Pinocchio.
Since the story is shot for shot a remake like many of the other remakes, for those who happened to have missed out on the 1940 version, Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is a wooden puppet, carved and crafted by a lonely shop owner Geppetto (Tom Hanks) who wishes on a star that Pinocchio becomes a real boy. After Pinocchio is brought to life by the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) and given a temporary conscious held in high regard by Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Pinocchio is thrust into a world that he isn’t prepared to handle – being that he’s a wooden puppet and all.
To a younger viewer, Pinocchio is sure to be delightful, charming, full of laughs and multiple life lessons. The film is geared toward that audience the most, but what is delightful to an older viewer is soulless and a feeble attempt to connect to that audience through the writing that misses the mark every time. Several jokes are misplaced that should have rather been cut entirely than have to be said aloud and linger in the back of your mind for the entire 105-minute runtime.
Throughout the film, Pinocchio is Disneyified – the handcrafted clocks in Geppetto’s home / workspace are easter eggs of other Disney Products. Nothing like a little narcissistic self-promotion when the clocks go off and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Maleficent, The Lion King, and Toy Story make an appearance. Believable or not the story of a wooden puppet coming to life is, the addition of the clocks further strays from any verisimilitude of the time. You mean to tell me that Geppetto is aware of Toy Story in which Hanks plays Woody? Or that it was Geppetto who conceived these characters and whomever decided to watch Pinocchio was inspired to create stories from their woodworked creator.
Looking at the cast, both live action and voice, they’re fine, not extraordinary but certainly not terrible – this is Hanks second role of the year with a strange accent – at least this time, he isn’t bleeding Pinocchio dry of any joy and money the semi-real boy is looking for in life. Hanks reunites with Zemeckis for their 4th collaboration after Forrest Gump, Cast Away, and The Polar Express. The pairing work well together but don’t expect a performance along the lines of Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood from Hanks.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a solid choice for Jiminy Cricket while Cynthia Erivo, the Tony award winner is severely underused as the Blue Fairy. A deviation from the 1940 film and one of the many strange changes for this version. As the titular Pinocchio, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is convincing as a wooden puppet come to life. Keegan-Michael Key as Honest John lends some of his comedic timing to his animated role but in the end the character doesn’t add much value to the story of a semi-real boy and the dialogue given falls flat, one joke in particular.
As for the animation, there are several different stylistic choices throughout. While the design for Pinocchio is smoother and unrealistic, Honest John and his assistant Gideon is hyper realistic and Jiminy looks like stop motion. When done correctly, the styles find a way to blend together but instead, each animation sticks out like a sore thumb, counteracting what the universe is setting the standard for.
All in all, Pinocchio is a huge disappointment. Devoid of charm and magic of the original that looks more like a cash grab with no real inspiration behind the decision to remake the classic. A few bad remakes isn’t stopping Disney either, several more are on the way, in either active development, or right around the corner ready for their moment of fame. As for Pinocchio, the public domain story gets a redeeming second chance later this year with the Guillermo del Toro stop motion version releasing to Netflix. Judging by the marketing of that version, it looks to be a fresh take on the classic story – the one this version pretends to be.
Screenplay By: Robert Zemeckis & Chris Weitz
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
Music By: Alan Silvestri
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Starring: Tom Hanks, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key, Cynthia Erivo, Luke Evans, Giuseppe Battiston
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: September 8, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%
Based On: Disney’s Pinocchio & The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi