Yet another unnecessary live-action Disney remake.
There have been many attempts to top the original 1940 Disney animated classic “Pinocchio,” which was taken from Carlo Collodi’s story, and many have tried and failed. There was “The Adventures of Pinocchio” with Jonathan Taylor Thomas in 1996, Robert Benigni’s awful and poorly dubbed version in 2002, Matteo Garrone’s take in 2020 (which also had Benigni but as Geppetto), and even HBO’s 90s animated series “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child” had the voices of Will Smith and Chris Rock.
This year, we have two versions: Robert Zemeckis’ live-action made-for-Disney+ version of the 1940 classic, and Guillermo del Toro’s stop motion made-for-Netflix version. For now, I have the review of the Zemeckis remake. The 1940 version is a landmark Disney film; this one is less than a landmark. In fact, it’s one of Zemeckis’ weaker films. You see some delightful performances (and I say “some”), but you still see a number of typical CGI and lack of inspiration.
You know the story. The old wood carver Geppeto makes a “Wish Upon a Star” about having his wooden puppet Pinocchio coming to life. The Blue Fairy grants him his wish, and not only appoints him Jiminy Cricket as his conscience, but also tells the puppet he must learn the difference between right and wrong in order for him to become a real boy. And he ends up dealing with a number of sleazy and charismatic characters, until he learns the error of his ways, and lives Happily Ever After.
Sounds like a spoiler alert, but how many times has this story been told?
Among the A-list cast in the film, Zemeckis reunites with Tom Hanks and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Hanks plays Geppeto, while Gordon-Levitt provides the voice of Jiminy Cricket. Hanks could have been better as Geppeto, while Gordon-Levitt tries way too hard to imitate Cliff Edward’s voice, and these two actors are great.
Benjamin Evans Ainsworth provides the voice of Pinocchio. He’s a good kid actor, and I’ve seen him in “Flora & Ulysses,” but I felt he was far behind Dickie Jones with the voice and youthful tone. Besides that, he looks like Pinocchio, but the effects should have made him with more wood and less CGI.
The villains consist of Keegan-Michael Key as the voice of the con artist fox Honest John, accompanied by his mute and dimwitted cat sidekick Gideon, Giuseppe Battiston as the greedy puppeteer and showman, who plans to use the puppet for his shows, and Luke Evans as the he Coachman, who leads the puppet and a number of naughty children to the infamous Pleasure Island, where they literally make Jackasses of themselves. Key knows how to have fun with the voice, but Battiston looks too comical, and Evans is a little too young to play the coachman. In fact, he’s kind of embarrassing when he dresses up like a soda bar waiter.
Cynthia Erivo plays the Blue Fairy. She has the singing voice, but the CGI effects covering her are too annoying for my tastes.
And like many of the live-action Disney remakes (“Beauty and the Beast” (2017), “Aladdin” (2019), etc.), some new characters come in the mix. Some characters you believe have potential, others you could do without. There’s the lovely puppeteer Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya), who has an injured leg, and dreams of starting her own traveling show. She also has her French ballerina marionette doll Sabina (voiced by Jaquita Ta’le) befriending the sad Pinocchio when he’s trapped in Stromboli’s clutches. And Geppeto and Jiminy have a seagull friend named Sofia (voiced by Lorraine Bracco). I would have loved to see more of Fabiana and Sabina, who both want to make some sparks, and less on the bird, who seems too obligatory for the great actress’ filmography.
Zemeckis has made a number of great films in the past, but his new version of “Pinocchio” is something that I’m sure a lot of fans will agree with me on. Unnecessary. It wouldn’t hurt to travel back in time to see the 1940 classic.
Streaming on Disney+