Disney’s latest in a line of live-action (and photo-realistic) remakes is charming but no masterpiece. Famed director Robert Zemeckis has been tasked with translating the beloved PINOCCHIO to a modern form of filmmaking, and while many of his efforts are appreciated, the film just doesn’t live up to the original.
I wish I didn’t have to compare it to the original film, but unfortunately, I do. Walt Disney’s second animated feature was not as big a success as their first, SNOW WHITE. In fact, while it was critically regarded as an artistic marvel, the film just didn’t make the studio money. It would be the first in a string of unsuccessful animated features for several years. Yet the movie lives on and is to this day hailed as one of Disney’s best films. In my opinion, it may still be the best (It’s included in my top three absolute favorites—and no, I won’t rank them in any order!). It showcases a time when Disney animation wasn’t afraid to be dark, scary, or sad. It was ambitious and pioneering.
Let me back up a little here: I’m a former Disney cast member, a bit of a Disney history nerd, and a self-identifying, dreaded “Disney Adult.” However, I’m the kind of Disney Adult who looks at the company with an eye of harsh criticism. I fully recognize its faults but also recognize the magic it has provided to the very fabric of the world’s culture. I also fully understand that I’m no longer Disney’s target audience when it comes to movies like this, it’s children, and that modern children probably don’t find the original animated classic all that appealing and therefore have no reference point with which to judge this film. And that’s disappointing.
All that being said, this movie was…fine. But it should have been great.
Pieces of the movie work, but it doesn’t quite come together as a whole. The story itself is sort of a serial account of adventures, and so that would make sense, and while the new script (written by Chris Weitz and Zemeckis) attempts to tighten the narrative, it plants many seeds that never actually bloom. It starts out strong and with the potential to be a success but just doesn’t maintain that steam throughout.
The iconic characters are well-represented. Tom Hanks gives a big, hearty turn as Geppetto. I can forgive his (weird) accent coming and going because he is so entirely committed to what he’s doing. At times he looks foolish, but in the most endearing way possible. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Jiminy Cricket is honestly a darn-good impression. The character is well-utilized but weirdly animated (more on that later). Benjamin Evan Ainsworth lends a spot-on, endearing performance as the voice of Pinocchio himself—he sounds eerily like the original. Keegan-Michael Key’s Honest John is great, Giuseppe Battiston as the drunken Stromboli deserves some sort of award, and Luke Evans as the Coachman does the best he can with what he’s given. I have to say I was disappointed with how the Blue Fairy (the wonderful Cynthia Erivo) was used—or rather, not used—in the film. While her magic is creatively evident throughout, I have to wonder: was Erivo only available for one day of shooting? The addition of a new character, Sabina (Jaquita Ta’le), starts out interesting but then becomes forced and confusing. Shoutout to Lewin Lloyd who plays Lampwick, Pinoch’s partner in sin on Pleasure Island–he’s terrific.
In addition to the iconic songs from the original, Zemeckis’ long-time composer Alan Silvestri, along with Glen Ballard, have written a handful of new ditties for the flick. A couple of them work…one of them doesn’t. It’s tricky adding new music to such a well-known property. At least an effort seems to have been made to try and make it match the original score. The same can’t be said for composing duo Pasek and Paul, whose contribution to the live-action ALADDIN film sounded distractingly nothing like the rest of the movie. Fortunately, in PINOCCHIO, none of the songs are long enough for this to really matter. The worst, however, might be Luke Evans’ song during the Pleasure Island sequence. He gives it his all, he sings with golden pipes, and the sequence itself is like a Las Vegas/Wonka fever dream (which I loved) but the song is just…bad.
The CGI is questionable. At times it looks unfinished. Pinocchio looks fine from afar, but up close, he’s unnerving. His facial expressions don’t make sense in this form of animation. His face forms wrinkles and furrowed brows, and his eyebrows move in ways wood just shouldn’t move. Does he have a layer of pliable, elasticized wooden skin? (Know what? Never mind. I don’t want to know the answer to that.) Jiminy is animated with a strange exoskeletal texture, and while his voice is enthusiastic and emotive, his face seems emotionless. Some other animated animals look fine, while others look terrible. Cleo the goldfish, Figaro the cat, and Sophia the seagull (don’t ask me…) just look…bad. However, Gideon and Honest John translate well, and Monstro is pretty cool, despite that whole sequence being awkwardly rushed. At almost two hours, it’s surprising how quickly the film’s climax comes and goes. The ending, however, was lovely.
Look, here’s the thing: compared to Disney’s other live-action (and photo-realistic) remakes, I personally thought this was one of the better ones…but that’s not saying much. It didn’t try to add a weird, out-of-place backstory about the plague like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the movie was better cast and directed than ALADDIN, it didn’t take itself too seriously like THE LION KING, and it didn’t stray too far from its source material like MALEFICENT. I have no notes about CRUELLA…it’s fabulous and très iconique!
Aside from its inconsistency and the occasional out-of-place modern reference, I found myself quite taken with its charm. Maybe I’m jaded, and I’ve lowered my expectations. Maybe I’m disappointed with what Disney has delivered recently. Maybe I wish they’d just stop these live-action (and photo-realistic) remakes altogether.
I’d classify it with live-action LADY AND THE TRAMP. It’s fine, it’s not hurting anyone, and it’s pretty to look at. But ultimately (and unfortunately) it’s fairly forgettable.
PINOCCHIO is available to stream on Disney+.