Producers: Andrew Miano, Chris Weitz, Robert Zemeckis and Derek Hogue Director: Robert Zemeckis Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis and Chris Weitz Cast: Tom Hanks, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key, Lorraine Bracco, Cynthia Erivo, Luke Evans, Giuseppe Battiston, Lewin Lloyd, Kyanne Lamaya, Jaquita Ta’le, Angus Wright, Jamie Demetriou and Sheila Atim Distributor: Disney+
Disney continues its practice of redoing its classic animated films as live-action (or live-action-CGI combo) pictures with Robert Zemeckis’ reimagining of the 1940 adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 book—which itself was, of course, a very free reworking that, although dark for a children’s movie, was far less bleak and, frankly, horrifying than the original. This new version hews pretty closely to the 1940 model, in terms of both plot trajectory and visuals (though the traditional animation is, of course, replaced with the computer-generated type). But it does make some changes that might help determine whether you’re likely to be pleased with it, or prefer to stick with the earlier film.
Do you want to watch Tom Hanks, in heavy makeup and spouting an accent only slightly less peculiar than the one he adopted as Tom Parker in “Elvis,” hobble around as Geppetto—the primary live actor to be found here? (Geppetto’s wish for a real boy is also explained at length by his grieving over a son he’s lost.)
Are you willing to forego hearing “Give a Little Whistle,” a song omitted here, and having “When You Wish Upon a Star” assigned to the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) rather than Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)? Or to put up with a few inferior new songs?
Do you think it’s a cute idea that when the cuckoo clocks in Geppetto’s store chime at the hour, the figures that emerge from many of them are characters from other Disney movies? Or that “Honest” John (Keegan-Michael Key), the manipulative fox, suggests to Pinocchio that in his search for fame he should, considering what he’s made of, think about changing his name to Chris Pine? Or that Pinocchio, anxious to get swallowed by Monstro the Whale in order to rescue Geppetto, water-skis into the creature’s mouth, pulled at top speed by a helpful if loquacious seagull named Sofia (Lorraine Bracco)?
These are some of the supposed improvements that Zemeckis and co-writer Chris Weitz have made to the 1940 film. Add to that a rendering of the Pleasure Island sequence—the place where Pinocchio and Lampwick (Lewin Lloyd), along with scads of other children, are led by the villainous Coachman (Luke Evans) to be turned into donkeys—so raucous and unpleasant that it might be straight out of one of Tim Burton’s live-action fantasy excesses. And an expansion of the sequence centering on the puppet show of Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston—whose first name, unless my eyes fail me, is misspelled as Guiseppe in the final credits crawl) that makes room for a couple of new characters, a lame puppeteer named Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya) and her ballerina marionette Sabiana, as well as one of those new songs. (In fairness, it still includes a reasonably good rendition of the classic “I’ve Got No Strings.”)
As all this should make clear, the Zemeckis-Weitz “Pinocchio” insists on tweaking the 1940 original in ways that are certainly unnecessary and usually wrongheaded. Neither imaginative enough to be refreshingly different nor faithful enough to be nostalgically satisfying, it falls into the same mediocre middle ground that most of these Disney live-action re-dos have, winding up as a cinematic footnote one would rather skip over.
On a more favorable note, the voice work is fine, with Ainsworth an engaging puppet and Gordon-Levitt peppy as a cricket denuded of his songs and shunted to the sidelines a good deal of the time. (At least he doesn’t get squashed by Pinocchio early on, as in Collodi.) Hanks gives it his best, which is always considerable even when he’s miscast, Erivo sings well as the heavily effects-altered fairy, Lamaya is sympathetic, mistreated as she is by the bulbously outfitted Battiston, and Evans is properly hissable. As one would expect of a Disney product, the movie is technically proficient, with Doug Chiang and Stefan Dechant’s production design, Don Burgess’ cinematography and Jesse Goldsmith’s editing all top-notch (as they should be, given what must have been the big budget the studio has lavished on these remakes). The set decoration by Tina Jones often goes overboard, though, and while the background score by Alan Silvestri is expectedly professional, it must be remembered that he also had a hand in those new songs.
In sum, just another superfluous redoing of a Disney animated classic, pointless except for the profits. A final question: is it possible that the lyric “an actor’s life is gay” in “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee” will cause censorship problems in some countries, like the same-sex kiss in “Lightyear”? Given how the world is now, maybe so.