Disney has been going down the line of their various animated classics to remake. Some are interesting re-interpretation like the bad girl origin story twist for Cruella. Other times it’s sort of a copy and paste version. Their latest effort, Pinocchio, is more copy and paste but with a few tweaks. Visually it looks impressive although it doesn’t strive for realism like the Lion King remake which sucked the life out of it by trying to look so real. This Pinocchio looks more cartoon-ish however realism in a story like this would probably end up unintentionally horrific. It’s an interesting, glossy update on a classic that doesn’t reinvent Pinocchio but dutifully recreates it.
Puppet and clock maker Geppetto (Tom Hanks) is making a puppet named Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) while coping with the loss of his son. Into Geppetto’s house is Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who sees Geppetto wish upon the wishing star. Granting his wish is the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) who bestows life upon the puppet and makes the vagrant cricket Jiminy the conscience for Pinocchio. Ecstatic that Pinocchio is alive, Geppetto eventually sends his puppet son to school. But even before he gets there, a nasty Con Artist Fox named Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) tries to talk Pinocchio into a life of acting. This sets off a chain of events that leads Pinocchio into being trapped in a travelling circus, stuck on an island of misfit kids, and eventually confronting a giant sea beast while his father Geppetto searches frantically for his missing wooden son.
The plot is exactly the same as the 1940s version as it uses the iconography from the original Disney version although a few things have been changed. Some new quirks feel a bit anachronistic, like Honest John saying that Pinocchio can become an “Influencer!” Although John does have a pretty funny line where he thinks of a stage name for Pinocchio and shouts out “Chris Pine!” Corny joke, but still kind of great and Michael-Key adds a lot of zip to his voice role. There’s a reference to Geppetto and Pinocchio as a “blended family” which doesn’t fly for 1895. In the original when Geppetto woke up to the sounds of the newly alive Pinocchio he pulled a hand musket out from under his pillow. In this version he picks up his cat and a candle. Probably for the best, someone sleeping with a gun under their pillow isn’t exactly as funny as it was in the 1940. The ending here is altered slightly from the original but it doesn’t make the film any worse, just different.
Another new addition is a friend Pinocchio makes when he’s trapped in Stromboli’s travelling circus named Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya). She’s a puppeteer who was a dancer but was hobbled by a leg injury so she channels her dance energy into her marionette. It is oddly sweet and gives Pinocchio another friend aside from Jiminy. Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy is doing a pretty good impression of the original guy with a few funny quips. By the end when Pinocchio, Jiminy and Geppetto are swallowed up by the sea creature, Jiminy is basically there to just yell “Woaaaaah” as they coast along a CGI wave away from a CGI monster.
Tom Hanks as Geppetto is acting the hell out of this considering the only time he shares screen time with another actual human being is about a minute when Geppetto shoos a guy away from his clock shop. The rest of it is just Hanks acting with digital screen partners be it cat, cricket or wooden boy. He adds pathos to the opening when Geppetto talks/sings about his deceased son. Most of the time he spends wandering around searching for Pinocchio as he looks appropriately anguished. Ainsworth as Pinocchio has some moments of being a fun kid and some stupid bits like when Pinocchio, leaving the house for the first time, ends up looking inquisitively at a pile of dung. His performance of “There Are No Strings On Me” is a blast and he actually sings “When You Wish Upon a Star” in a moment in the finale to surprisingly stirring emotional effect. Erivo as the Blue Fairy has an impressive voice to sing “When You Wish Upon a Star”. The Blue Fairy is oddly absent from the iconic lying scene, it’s just Pinocchio and Jiminy. In the original the Blue Fairy made the scene feel magical, without her it’s a breakout scene where Jiminy uses Pinocchio’s nose to grab a key.
Enhanced and even more freaky is the Pleasure Island scene where the misfit kids go on a rampage and turn into donkeys. It is sort of nightmare fuel at any age and the scene when Pinocchio’s newfound buddy turns screaming into a donkey is recreated exactly. The expanded bit is a song by the Coachman played with nefarious intent by Luke Evans who encourages the kids to be bad. Even the score by Alan Silvestri begins to become more bombastic and menacing as the chaos goes on.
Pinocchio is basically a fancy new coat of CGI paint on a Disney classic that is only guilty of being redundant. At least it has more pep and changes than the blank faced Lion King remake. Disney’s remake parade continues, maybe next time they’ll hit gold.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Tom Hanks, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key, Cynthia Erivo, Giuseppe Battiston and Luke Evans