- Nate Adams
'Pinocchio' review: Just another soulless and unimaginative Disney remake
Courtesy of Disney+
Often regarded as a groundbreaking, technical achievement in animation, the 1940 classic “Pinocchio,” Disney’s second fully animated movie following “Snow White,” helped cement the studio’s dominance and has influenced generations. From its blissful animation, excellent voice work (hello Dick Jones and Cliff Edwards!) and timeless soundtrack (“When You Wish Upon a Star” is literally the stinger used in the current Disney intro), “Pinocchio” has withstood the test of time. Naturally, with the incessant need to fuel subscriber growth and overall diminishing box office returns, it was only a matter of time before the beloved story about a wooden boy/puppet would get the live action treatment nobody asked for, but unlike “The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book” which put some visual effects magic on the silver screen, Robert Zemeckis’ smaller-scale rendition of “Pinocchio” never comes close to replicating the creative spirit those Disney animators showed 80-years ago.
It also features the latest broad, poorly accented caricature from Tom Hanks following the actor’s cartoonish turn in “Elvis.” He, of course, plays Geppetto, the kind hearted but lonely woodcarver/toymaker who, after making a wish on the wishing star, wills into existence, Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth - solid), a puppet with ambitions of becoming a real boy. The screenplay by Robert Zemeckis and Chris Weitz charts familiar territory in the film’s earlier scenes: introducing familiar faces like Geppetto’s pets, Figaro the Cat (adorable!) and Cleo the Goldfish, plus Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, more on him later) and Cynthia Erivo’s iconic The Blue Fairy who provides the pipes for the 2022 rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
All that’s fine, minus Gordon-Levitt’s questionable vocal performance who, instead of making the role of Jiminy Cricket his own, decides to do a horrible impersonation of what he *thinks* the character should sound like, but Zemeckis’ retelling starts losing steam as it begins overcrowding the movie with secondary characters who, unlike the animated version, serve minimal purpose in this remake. Characters like the deceptive fox Honest John (voice of Keegan-Michael Key), who tries exploiting Pinocchio, friendly seagull Sofia (Lorraine Bracco), and Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston) sort of come and go throughout the movie, creating a weird stagnant pace as Hanks stays sidelined for a solid chunk of the film. Where’s the vision?
Zemeckis is known for his lavish, stop-motion style of animation, having essentially created deep-fake technology in “The Polar Express” (which still gives me nightmares) and doubled down with “Beowulf,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “Mars Needs Moms” (remember that disaster?). He brings much of the same ugly CGI to “Pinocchio,” especially during the pivotal third act that bounces from “Pleasure Island” to the climactic showdown inside Monstro the Whale. It’s a gigantic eye sore that showcases no matter how much cash you pour into something, it can’t hide obvious blemishes. While the character design of Pinocchio (Ainsworth deserves credit here for delivering a joyous performance under the circumstances) looks like the classic, animated character, other sequences look plucked from poorly cropped computer screensavers (when you see the final sequence with Monstro, you’ll know what I’m talking about).
But the most heartbreaking thing about “Pinocchio” is how it guts the central relationship and rids the film of its heart (and maybe learning that Tom Hanks isn’t the best singer). You can sense the movie is made from a place of admiration, but the same respect for what many cherished about the 1940 version doesn’t translate here. It’s another cog in the expansive Disney machine that can be used for shiny marketing purposes and disregarded quickly. If anyone tells you differently, maybe check their nose to see if it grew three sizes.
PINOCCHIO is now streaming on Disney+