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Disney+ Review: Pinocchio

September 8, 2022

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Disney’s new version of Pinocchio, which is being released direct to streaming as part of this year’s Disney+ Day programming, is the studio’s latest live action remake of a beloved animated classic, and it’s maybe the weakest one they have put out yet.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who feels like he is working within the narrow confines of the studio’s demands to essentially copy and paste elements of the hand-drawn film from 1940, this retelling of Pinocchio is a dull and uninspired retread that constantly feels like it is just going through the motions.

Tom Hanks takes on the role of lonely clockmaker Geppetto, the creator of a puppet that he names Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and wishes were a “real boy.” Cynthia Erivo appears as the Blue Fairy who grants his wish (which includes singing the iconic song “When You Wish Upon a Star”) and brings the wooden boy to life, with Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, also serving as our narrator) acting as his conscience.

The basic elements of the story are here, with Pinocchio being taken on an adventure as he is sent off into the world to go to school, but instead ends up being swayed by a mischievous fox named Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) who sends him down the wrong path. But the film too often feels like it is just trying to be a glossed over carbon copy of the animated version while shoehorning in a variety of Easter Eggs (Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks feature characters from other Disney properties, including Zemeckis’s own Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and it has little of the earlier film’s artistry, magic, or charm.

Some darker and weirder (i.e., more interesting) aspects of the film start to emerge when Pinocchio gets taken by The Coachman (Luke Evans) to Pleasure Island, including a surprisingly creepy carriage ride flanked by dead-eyed children. But despite some dark visuals, Zemeckis is unable to fully commit to the story’s more nightmarish elements, even as Pinocchio learns hard life lessons on the island (which is presented appropriately as a microcosm of a society in decline).

The screenplay, credited to Zemeckis and Chris Weitz, struggles to commit to a single tone, with some awkward humour and anachronistic pop culture references (Honest John promises Pinocchio that he can become an “influencer”). Even the film’s main villain, the puppeteer Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston) who seeks to exploit Pinocchio for his own gain, is more goofy than intimidating. The film adds a couple of new characters, including a seagull named Sofia (Lorraine Bracco) and an aspiring ballerina named Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya) who lives vicariously through her own marionette, but they both feel entirely unneeded and like they were inserted by committee.

The CGI itself is uneven, with Pinocchio and the other animated characters often falling into the uncanny valley. At times the animation appears unfinished, and the entire production has a bit of a fake look to it. The finale involving Monstro the Whale also feels rushed, before the film just sort of fizzles out and ends. Even Tom Hanks, whose natural warmth seems ideal for the role of Geppetto, mostly seems like he is phoning it in with his performance here.

This is a clearly a disappointment from Zemeckis, but it’s also a disappointment in terms of Disney’s mixed bag of live action updates. What we are left with is a remake that doesn’t really do anything new or interesting with its source material, and instead just feels like a bland and inferior version of its predecessor. The original animated film was a work of art. This one feels like a corporate product, a piece of streaming content made purely to capitalize on presenting a beloved property in a shiny new package. And it brings me no joy to say this.

Pinocchio will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ as of September 8th.

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