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This was a film that I was dreading to watch. I’d heard so many bad things about it. A fellow reviewer even referred to it as the worst thing that Disney’s ever produced which really had me worried! Eventually I checked it out and boy, it’s…it’s something, alright.
Here’s my review of the live-action remake of Disney’s Pinocchio!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film begins with a somewhat frightening CGI rendering of Jiminy Cricket briefly singing the Disney anthem, When You Wish Upon a Star.
Like the original film, Jiminy Cricket, voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing a Cliff Edwards impression, narrates to us the story of Pinocchio. His tale begins when he was roaming the streets of Italy of yore seeking warmth and stumbling upon a workshop owned by an old man named Geppetto, played by Tom Hanks.
Geppetto carves toys, clocks, and other “oddments”, some of which he sells, and others which he can’t part with. Like the original film, his walls are decorated by a plethora of clocks.
The only difference now is that many of them are based on Disney characters and properties including Donald Duck, The Lion King, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Maleficent, Dumbo, Snow White, and Toy Story.
Geppetto’s current project is a wooden puppet which he names Pinocchio. Unlike the original film, this film hints at the fact that Geppetto previously had a wife as well as a young son both of whom are now dead. So Pinocchio serves as a way for him to fill the void that his son once filled. Before he retires to bed, he sees a wishing star outside his window and wishes that Pinocchio become a real boy. Well, he doesn’t actually say so, but it’s implied.
After he falls asleep, the Blue Fairy, played by Cynthia Erivo, enters his workshop and makes Pinocchio come “alive” by her magic. Pinocchio, voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, retains the positivity and childish friendliness that Pinocchio had in the original film. The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio that if he proves himself to be brave, truthful, and unselfish, then he will be a real boy. She makes Jiminy Cricket (who witnessed all this) Pinocchio’s (temporary) conscience to help him make the right choices in life when temptation strikes. Then she briefly sings When You Wish Upon a Star before leaving.
After she leaves, Geppetto awakens and is, of course, dumbfounded that his wooden puppet is now walking and talking! But the shock is short-lived as he quickly accepts Pinocchio as part of his family and as the days go by, they spend them doing things together. Eventually Geppetto thinks it’s time for Pinocchio to start attending school.
He sends Pinocchio off to school and tells him to come straight home afterwards. However along the way, he bumps into a CG talking anthropomorphic fox and mute cat named Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and Gideon, respectively. They’re your typical con artists from the original film seeing an opportunity of a lifetime to make money in the walking, talking puppet that they can sell to a famous puppet master named Stromboli.
They stop Pinocchio in his tracks and try to convince him that school isn’t important. Rather the life of fame and the theater is the way to go.
One thing that’s noticeably different in this remake of Pinocchio as opposed to the original film is that it takes Pinocchio much more coaxing to give in to temptation. I don’t know if this is because they think kids nowadays are more alert and shrewd compared to kids of yore. Or if this is because Pinocchio goes to school after spending a few days with Geppetto rather than going to school the day right after he comes to life as shown in the original film, thereby making him less naïve. I’m not sure. And I’m not sure whether or not this is a good change to the character.
Anyway, the duo convinces Pinocchio to accompany them to Stromboli. However Jiminy Cricket intercepts them and after a bit of slapstick that renders Honest John and Gideon unconscious, he convinces Pinocchio to go back to school. Pinocchio does so, but is then kicked out of school by the schoolteacher who says school is for real children and that puppets belong in puppet shows. Honest John and Gideon, having regained consciousness, use this opportunity to trap Jiminy Cricket in a glass jar and then re-convince Pinocchio to go to Stromboli.
Stromboli, played by Giuseppe Battiston, buys Pinocchio and puts him to work later that night for his first performance wherein he sings the classic, I’ve Got No Strings. One thing that is different in this remake is that there’s a young girl puppeteer named Fabiana, played by Kyanne Lamaya, who works for Stromboli. She’s kind as opposed to Stromboli and acts as friend to Pinocchio. But my issue is that she doesn’t really do anything! They give her a new song to sing entitled, I Will Always Dance, but she doesn’t really serve much of a purpose besides that. I feel they just created her because they needed a female character. It’s just a shame that she could easily have been written out of the film and it wouldn’t have made any difference.
After the show is over, Stromboli locks up Pinocchio in a cage in his carriage with no intention of letting his cash cow puppet go. As the carriage passes by where Jiminy Cricket is trapped, a flying rock from underneath manages to free Jiminy allowing him to escape and enter the carriage. Pinocchio is relieved to see him and starts lying about his situation, resulting in his nose growing longer every time he lies. Jiminy Cricket points this out to him, but he still continues to lie.
Nevertheless, this lying doesn’t really play much of a focus in this remake and is somewhat glanced over. Pinocchio actually uses this to his advantage to make his nose long enough to steal the key that could unlock the cage. He and Jiminy then head for home, but Pinocchio gets kidnapped by the Coachman, played by Luke Evans. The Coachman kidnaps naughty, mischievous boys and takes them to Pleasure Island, a haven of parent-less fun! However Pinocchio doesn’t feel comfortable about this and doesn’t want to go.
The Coachman then sings a new song, The Coachman to Pleasure Island, and awaits to hear Pinocchio’s decision. Faced with peer pressure from the other boys including a kid named Lampwick, played by Lewin Lloyd, he gives in and says he’ll go with them although he still feels this is wrong. At Pleasure Island, all the kids enjoy themselves making mischief and breaking things. However unlike the original film, this time there’s no smoking and the alcohol is replaced with root beer.
Jiminy Cricket manages to find his way to Pleasure Island to try to save Pinocchio. He discovers though that as per the original film, the island transforms the mischievous boys into donkeys which the Coachman sells around the world to be used as labor. By now, Lampwick has also transformed into a donkey and Pinocchio has grown donkey ears and a tail. Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket manage to escape by jumping off a cliff into the ocean below (luckily Pinocchio can float) and head straight back to Geppetto’s cottage.
However they discover he’s not there. A CG seagull friend of Jiminy’s, Sofia, voiced by Lorraine Bracco, tells them that Geppetto went searching for Pinocchio when he didn’t return home from school. They find Geppetto in a boat in the sea and rush towards him, with both Geppetto and Pinocchio happy to see each other. Unfortunately, a sea monster, Monstro, swallows them both.
Pinocchio gets the idea to burn wood in Monstro’s stomach so that he would sneeze them out. This plan works although Geppetto doesn’t seem to survive this. However in true Lilo & Stitch 2-fashion, Pinocchio’s tear of sadness brings Geppetto back to life.
Geppetto apologizes to Pinocchio for insinuating that he wasn’t a “real boy” or good enough and the two head home. Jiminy Cricket ends the story by saying that day Pinocchio did become a real boy, but it’s ambiguous if that means he’s transformed into a human or if his qualities of bravery and whatnot are what made him a real boy.
And that was Pinocchio! There’s just so much to criticize about this film from the pointless existences of Fabiana and Sofia (who only seems to be there to fix the deus ex machine of the original film of how Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket learned where Geppetto was) to the forgettable and randomly out-of-place new songs written for this remake. I feel the Blue Fairy should have made at least one more appearance and since the kids don’t smoke or drinking alcohol, the Pleasure Island transformations don’t deliver any powerful messages. Monstro doesn’t seem necessary to exist in this remake and the ambiguous ending to promote the “Just Be Yourself” message is such a copout! Also, some of the CG in this film was quite frightening!
Many of the scenes were shot-for-shot remakes which I didn’t mind. And I also enjoyed some of the acting and voice acting especially that of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Keegan-Michael Key. (Sheesh, how many three-named people are in this movie?!) But I don’t know what to think of Tom Hanks. He just felt like an old guy. I hate to say that both of Tom Hanks’ live-action Disney appearances disappointed me, but it looks like that may be the case.
In the end, if you want to watch a live-action Disney adaptation of the Pinocchio story, I would recommend watching Geppetto with Drew Carey over this film any day!
The next review will be posted on November 22, 2022.