Just when you thought the Mouse House conglomerate had run out of films to slavishly retell in live-action form, guess again. The newest live-action remake of a beloved animated film comes in the form of the soulless and artificial film from none other than Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis. With a story and character that has been adapted into cinema for over 80 years, this latest retelling of Pinocchio feels like the most pointless attempt as it offers nothing new in terms of storytelling, filmmaking or fresh ideas.
In the tradition of most live-action Disney remakes, this Pinocchio slavishly retreads the original film. The classic tale, based on the 1883 novel, follows lonely Woodworker Geppetto (Tom Hanks, reuniting with Zemeckis since 2004’s The Polar Express) who wishes upon a star that his wooden marionette named, Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, The Haunting of Bly Manor), would become a real boy. By the magic of the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo), Pinocchio comes to life and must prove himself worthy to become a real boy.
There’s a sense of enchantment, wonder and even terror in the original Disney classic. This telling has none of the that, leaving behind the stench of a cynically produced piece of programming for a conglomerates content farm. The films opening 10 minutes are merely fascinating as it features Tom Hanks by his lonesome, pouring out a heartfelt performance fit with a baffling accent and under cartoonish hair and make-up. This new adaptation shows some inspiration here and there, largely with its casting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes for an exciting, and, ahem, animated voice of Jiminy Cricket. Cynthia Erivo is simply enchanting as the Blue Fairy and Keegan Michael-Key is perhaps the most ideal modern casting of Honest John, who makes his brief appearance, clocking in with less screen time here than in the 88 minute original film, a rare highlight of the film. Not to mention a very fun Luke Evans performance that saves every scene the actor is in.
Zemeckis has proved himself time and time again to be a technical film wizard, pushing beyond the boundaries of what was deemed possible in the realm of filmmaking. None of that spark or creative energy is anywhere to be found. Zemeckis’ filmmaking here is as artificial and mechanical as any typical studio gun-for-hire. You wouldn’t be able to tell from this film alone this is from the same man who gave us Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
This is as much a “live-action” remake as Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. That film starred a single human character, whereas Pinocchio has plenty more actual humans, but are surrounded by so much digital backgrounds, the film never feels tactile or real. Neither does the character of Pinocchio here, either. The performance from young Ainsworth isn’t directed to go beyond the boyish, “gee, whiz” attitude of the character’s initial impression.
Some of the effects are stellar, giving real life and depth to some of these classic characters. The new depiction of Jiminy Crockett feels the most vibrant alongside Erivo’s Blue Fairy. Other times the effects are garish and the compositions are quite rough. An early scene features Tom Hanks holding Pinocchio, but the actor’s hands are only crudely hovering over the animated space. This is the first, among many, visual embarrassments in a film produced by a company that is notoriously anti-union and aggressive to their effects houses.
Set pieces that are known for their harrowing content, such as the Pleasure Island sequence and the finale set inside Monstro, are stripped of their potential power with every potential edge having been shaved or smoothened. New creative liberties are largely infuriating, with the worst example coming from its updated depiction of Monstro the whale. Zemeckis awkwardly crams in contrived pop culture references that seek to only stop the movie dead in its tracks. The new songs, written by Glen Ballard, are all entirely disposable, serving very little to the film other than to pad out the runtime.
Pinocchio is the kind of film that only exists when a major studio’s streaming service needs product to keep as background noise for small children. It’s also the worst film in the career of its acclaimed director and is in contention for the worst Disney live-action remake.