"Pinocchio" stars Tom Hanks, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key, Cynthia Erivo, and Luke Evans. Released on Disney+ on September 8, 2022, the film is about a wooden puppet going on an adventure after being revived by the Blue Fairy.
The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also directed films such as "Back to the Future", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", "Cast Away", and "The Walk". It is a remake of the 1940 film of the same name, which is based on the 1883 book The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. It's been 85 years since Walt Disney became a household name in the animation world with his first full-length movie, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Following the success of that film, Disney captured lightning in a bottle for the second time with an adaptation of "Pinocchio", a tale about a wooden puppet longing to become a real boy. It became a classic for the Disney crew for its groundbreaking achievement in effects animation and charming story that's both ambitious and frightening. Eighty-plus years later, the world of Disney is bringing it back to life as a live-action/CGI remake for Disney+ Day. What better way to celebrate that occasion than by traumatizing a new generation of kids with a child transforming into a jackass? Regardless of how people feel about Disney's live-action remakes of their animated gems, these films mostly succeed in reintroducing their classics to a new generation. They may not have recaptured the iconic essence of their animated counterparts, but they're enjoyable in their own right. This film looks to be another example of this theory, especially when it has Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis working together for the umpteenth time. With that in mind, let's revisit the classic story and see if the movie is worth wishing upon a star for.
The story centers on Geppetto (Hanks), a kind-hearted woodcarver who lives alone in his shop with his pets, Figaro the cat and Cleo the goldfish. One day, he carved a wooden puppet shaped like a young boy and raised it as if he were his son. He even named it Pinocchio (Ainsworth) since he's made out of pine. Pinocchio is eventually brought to life by the Blue Fairy (Erivo) after Geppetto wishes for him to be real. With a cricket named Jiminy Cricket (Gordon-Levitt) acting as Pinocchio's "conscience", the wooden boy winds up in a series of misadventures while dreaming of being a real boy, including performing for a cruel puppeteer named Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston). During his journey, Pinocchio learns what it means to be real.
Disney's "Pinocchio" is a beloved and timeless animated classic for numerous reasons: the animation, the characters, the songs, and, of course, the story. It provided a heartfelt and fun plot about the main character going through different trials to become a real and good-natured boy. It inspires viewers of all ages to be kind and selfless towards others and themselves while scaring them with children being turned into donkeys. So Robert Zemeckis had a lot of expectations to fulfill in recapturing the spirit of Walt Disney's second animated feature. He had to provide the charm that worked in the animated version, but he also had to deliver something new to the table to avoid being a dated rehash of the cartoon. Times have changed, and the mouse is adapting to it. While there are definitely some heartfelt moments included in the remake, they're sadly not enough to make it stand out compared to the other adaptations.
Like many other live-action remakes of Disney's animated features, "Pinocchio" follows the same storyline as the 1940 film but with some additional material to make it a tad longer. It almost follows the narrative structure beat-by-beat like the 2019 "Lion King" remake, with plenty of nostalgic scenes recreated in live-action that'll make you remember the good old days. That's basically Disney's live-action remakes in a nutshell, with "Pinocchio" being one of them. It's easy for me to nitpick this movie for being too familiar with the animated version. However, I will give it some credit for expanding on specific moments from the cartoon, including Pinocchio actually going to school, even though some of them may not work for everyone, especially the ending. Unfortunately, even with its additional material, the remake struggled to be more than just a nostalgic trip.
Regarding its rushed pacing and average storytelling, "Pinocchio" fell flat in exploring the main character's coming-of-age journey on an emotional and riveting level. But that doesn't mean there weren't any parts that I enjoyed. Robert Zemeckis is always known for providing impressive visual flair in his movies, and his version of "Pinocchio" is no different. Zemeckis does feel restrained with his storytelling, but his direction for the set designs and character work showcases the filmmaker letting his conscience be his guide. From the looks of it, he was right to do so. The CGI effects and production design captured the aesthetics of not just the animated movie but also a children's storybook. One of the examples of this that stood out for me was Pinocchio himself. In a surprising turn of events regarding live-action remakes, the movie's take on the wooden boy has the same design as the one from the cartoon. It was unusual seeing this character design in live-action at first, but then it grew on me when I saw it blending well with the actors. This was probably the studio's best (and the only) choice regarding its live-action remake trend.
The cast was also enjoyable, both for their live-action and animated roles. Unsurprisingly, Tom Hanks made a decent effort in providing genuine heart in his performance as Geppetto. He doesn't quite top Christian Rub's portrayal of the woodcarver in the animated version, but I can't deny Hanks' talent in representing charismatic and kind-hearted characters in his films. Cynthia Erivo was also decent in her role of The Blue Fairy despite only appearing once in the entire movie. Although, I will say that the voice actors were the real stars of the show. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, known for his roles in "The Haunting of Bly Manor" and "Flora & Ulysses", was absolutely remarkable as the titular character, as he flawlessly captured the mannerisms and child-like wonder of the puppet from the 1940 film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was also a great surprise as Jiminy Cricket. I could barely tell it was him based on how he talked. However, the one actor that stood out the most was Keegan-Michael Key as Honest John. Say what you will about Key, but he's a star when it comes to his overly appealing charisma, and his vocal performance as John is no exception. His high energy and charm fit exceptionally well with John's sly personality, making him one of the best parts of the remake, in my opinion.
Then you have the new characters made exclusively for the remake. One of them is Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya), a puppeteer working for Stromboli with Sabina (Jaquita Ta'le) as her puppet. The other is Sofia (Lorraine Bracco), a seagull who helps Jiminy find Pinocchio. They don't do much to be as memorable as the main characters, but they're fine enough to make their presence worthwhile regarding the actors portraying them.
But, of course, it isn't a Disney live-action remake without the songs from their animated counterpart. The movie included a couple of songs from the original, like the iconic "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "I've Got No Strings", which were recreated nicely in live-action. Additionally, it offered four new songs to accompany these classic tunes, such as "Pinocchio, Pinocchio" by Tom Hanks and "The Coachman to Pleasure Island" by Luke Evans. The original songs always have a place in my heart, but the newer ones created for the movie were something I would take or leave. They're not bad, but they're nothing too spectacular, either.
Overall, "Pinocchio" is a visual delight filled with charm and heart, but it's not enough to fulfill its wish to exist alongside its cartoon counterpart. Regarding the cast, nostalgia, and CGI effects, Robert Zemeckis's take on the story makes for an enjoyable watch for families. Sadly, the film's pacing, familiar elements, and restrained narrative kept it from ranking among the better live-action remakes from Disney. It's undeniably delightful, but there's not much else aside from that to justify its existence. Let's hope Guillermo del Toro's version of the fairy tale fares any better.