MOVIE REVIEW – The visually stunning yet kitschy and forced live-action approach makes the film lifeless, even if the title character’s puppet comes to life. The Disney remake has failed to breathe new life into the old story.
Live-action adaptations of Disney animated classics have often been pretty poor. Look at 2019’s The Lion King as an example. Jon Favreau’s 1994 film adaptation was criticised for being too realistic, sucking the emotion out of the animals and replacing them with stone-cold CGI creatures.
Others, such as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, were too tied to the source material, afraid to change something that already worked. But these films were largely successful for that reason, costing hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Because Disney has never been the enemy of the pocketbook, they did the same with Pinocchio. Robert Zemeckis’s adaptation of the golden-age classic brings the 1940 animated film into CGI almost frame by frame. While the film is visually stunning at times, the end result is somehow completely lifeless, even when the titular puppet comes to life.
Tom Hanks’ routine is still the basis
Tom Hanks plays Geppetto, the Italian woodcarver and toy maker, introduced in the movie’s first moments by Cricket Jiminy (or Jiminy Cricket in the original English), voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is a puppet carved by Geppetto, and Cynthia Erivo plays the black Blue Fairy, who turns the puppet into a living tree boy.
For Hanks, this is a recurring role: in the vastly superior Finch, he plays another elderly “handyman” who, in a post-apocalyptic world, creates a lovable little clumsy robot to look after his dog when he is gone.
But back to this tale: anyone familiar with the original film will know what happens from here – Pinocchio is trapped by the red fox, Honest John (Keegan Michael-Key), into joining Stromboli’s puppet theatre and sent on a journey to learn the difference between right and wrong, and what it really means to be a real boy.
The Disney Plus treatment
Pinocchio will be released on Disney+, a decision made after the mediocre box office performance of the live-action adaptation of Dumbo. As a beloved classic in Disney’s repertoire, it was only a matter of time before the studio adapted the film, but as with Dumbo, it’s clear that the film won’t have the same resonance as other adaptations. There are a few visually stunning scenes (all of which take place in the film’s second half) directed by Zemeckis’ steady hand, but nothing is groundbreaking. The Pleasure Island section stands out, with Luke Evans’ performance as the coachman providing the sinister atmosphere for the subsequent spooky scenes. It is here that Pinocchio’s biggest problem is revealed.
Of course, it will surely resonate with children new to the fairy tale, but it highlights a fundamental problem with Disney’s live-action adaptations. Whether it’s because of its release on Disney+ or the studio’s trend of trying to ‘peel back’ the darker parts of older stories, Pinocchio’s story becomes sterilised as it comes to life. The underlying morality tale is still there, but Disney has added nothing to it beyond that, it has taken nothing from the original cartoon.
Nothing new under the sun
Films like Pinocchio and its live-action predecessors play it too safe with their source material and cannot justify their existence by adding anything new to a story that has been told many times before. When juxtaposed with Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Pinocchio, a stop-motion animated film that sets the story in 1930s fascist Italy, this contrast becomes even starker for the titular wooden puppet. And let’s not forget the upcoming soulslike game Lies of P., which we recently wrote about.
What this means for future adaptations of Disney’s animated films remains to be seen. The Little Mermaid is undoubtedly promising, if only because of the actors and creators behind the project, as is Hercules, which is ripe for a live-action reimagining and will be helmed by Aladdin director Guy Ritchie.
Tom Hanks is good in the film
Disney has no problem attracting big-name talent to these adaptations, and the Pinocchio cast is no different. Tom Hanks is a great Geppetto, and his performance here is far better and more lifelike than the forced Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis, although interestingly enough, that was a similar character in some ways. Child actor Ainsworth appeared in Netflix’s The Sandman last month and also did an excellent job as the English voice actor for Pinocchio. Yet, sadly, it remains clear that this tale should not have been retold.
This Pinocchio is, sadly, nothing more than another lifeless live-action adaptation lifted from the Disney toy factory. Although the story is all about breathing life into the main character’s wooden-footed little boy, ironically, that’s precisely what this film failed to do for me.