In Hollywood, as we know it today, the industry prizes profitability above all else. Marketability is important. The tentpoles, the sequels and the remakes are king. Over the last half-decade, Disney in particular truly took this to heart.

With a storytelling legacy stretching back almost 100 years, Disney continued to go back to the stories they’ve already told. The hope is they can recapture and modernize these features. They want to capture lightning in a bottle… twice. Today, the next installment in their live-action remake series comes out with Robert Zemeckis’ reimagining of Pinocchio. Will he find new magic in this rehash of an 82-year-old movie? Or does this iconic story have dry rot? Read on, kids.  

As mentioned, Pinocchio continues the recent Disney live-action remake series. This time out, they’re turning their attention to their 1940 storied classic of the same name. The movie follows a clockmaker named Geppetto (Tom Hanks) who builds himself a puppet. Desperately lonely, he wishes the puppet could come to life and the “Blue Fairy” (Cynthia Erivo) brings Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) to life.

Along with his cricket conscious Jiminy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Pinocchio goes on a number of adventures in his quest to become a “real boy.” Angus Wright, Keegan-Michael Key, Lorraine Bracco and Luke Evans co-star in the movie. Robert Zemeckis directs the film from a script he co-wrote with Chris Weitz and Simon Farnaby. 

There are no strings on Pinocchio in Pinocchio.

Disney needs to figure things out. Quickly. Over the last half-decade, we’ve seen “live-action remakes” of such classics as Cinderella, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin (to name a few). Without looking it up, the studio also has Snow White and The Little Mermaid waiting in the wings. 

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Who are these movies for? While some of these (namely Cinderella, Mulan and Aladdin) have brought refreshing opportunities for modernization and representation, just as many have shown this once-storied studio teetering on the brink of another “Dark Age.”

In their recent output, the “House of Mouse” appears to be losing grasp of what “live-action” actually means. This is incredibly apparent in Pinocchio. Ultimately, animation is needed to achieve certain visuals. A puppet can not actually become a real boy on-screen. Tom Hanks can not tangle with a supersized, whale-like monster. A cricket can’t sing “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Pinocchio waterski’s to Geppetto’s aid in Pinocchio

In the hands of artists, far-fetched images become real. Generations of children lost themselves in the magic of Walt Disney animated classics. It’s a world of fantasy. Ultimately, the studio’s quest to bring this magic into the real world is limited by the technology we possess. And weirdly, Disney’s confidence in their graphics is a lot higher than what comes across on screen.

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In Pinocchio, Zemeckis makes the decision to replace elements that could be shot with real figures with computers. In fact, Tom Hanks never actually interacts with another human being throughout the entire movie. Cats, marionettes, and birds, even if they don’t have any lines, they are still computer generated. It’s not necessary and it ultimately pulls an audience back from the story. These forced visuals don’t “look cool,” they bring the narrative’s magic to a sputtering halt. 

Meanwhile, filmmaking legend Zemeckis crafts a movie that ultimately feels dated. This live-action revamp would feel right at home in the heyday of the studio system. In some cases, this could work! Unfortunately though, in this case, the choice isn’t a conscious one. From top to bottom, these performances are broad and clumsy at best, including Hanks. 2022 is the year for Tom Hanks to wear lots of make-up and utilize a lot of indistinguishable accents and yours truly is not a fan. 

Geppetto sends Pinocchio off to school in Pinocchio.

While Hanks is utterly wasted in this movie, the small team of human-supporting performers brings inconsistent performances at best. They populate a world that feels less like reality and more like an indistinguishable European village in a 1930s musical. Some of the accents are of the “It’s – a- me! Mario!” variety, while others are closer to cockney British. Heck, there are even some Newsies-like street-urchins sprinkled in the second act. 

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads the team of voice performers and is ultimately the high point in this movie. The actor disappears in his portrayal of Jiminy Cricket. In fact, his performance brings the most awareness of Pinocchio‘s animated legacy. Gordon-Levitt seems to be taking audible inspiration from Cliff Edwards, whose performance in the 1940 feature as Jiminy Cricket is the stuff Disney dreams are made of. 

Meanwhile, Cynthia Erivo shines as “The Blue Fairy.” However, her role is mired in a first act that is choppy at best. This character is the heart of the story’s magic. Yet, her performance is decidedly blink-and-you-miss-it. This critic became a fan after her work in Bad Times at the El Royale and Erivo continues to amaze. Her rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” is utterly gorgeous… yet, it’s wasted in the closing credits. At the same time, the computer work around Erivo’s character demonstrates how CG can be utilized to enhance these movies. This scene could truly feel magical if it wasn’t so rushed. 

All in all, if you like the 1940, Disney version of Pinocchio… just watch that one. If you don’t like the animated version, why are you sitting down to watch this one? As mentioned, it’s difficult to envision just who this film is for. Ultimately, Pinocchio is little more than superfluous fluff from a movie studio with a legendary past of telling much better stories. There is nothing here that hasn’t been done better. Save your streaming hours for other programming. 

Pinocchio is now available to watch on Disney+. 

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