The Disney remake train roars back into this week. Since Disney took its first swing at Pinocchio back in 1940, therHamilton Luske’s and Ben Sharpsteen’s animated features, the animated feature from Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen remains the most iconic. It seemed inevitable that Disney would want to reinvigorate the classic story with a live-action feature. Yet the results from Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis reiterate the folly of this process. Without any heart to the story, Pinocchio struggles to deliver much besides hackneyed dad jokes and poorly executed updates to the classic tale.
Set in Italy, a woodworker named Geppetto (Tom Hanks) builds himself a marionette. Crafting it in the image of his son, he names the doll Pinocchio. After wishing on a star, the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) arrives to bring Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) to life. To help guide the young wooden doll, the Blue Fairy appoints Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to help guide the boy as his conscious. On the way to school, Pinocchio finds himself on the road to adventure.
Zemeckis, the famed director of generational hits like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump, seems to have lost his touch. Not only does this version of Pinocchio contain very little wonder, but the visuals pale in comparison to an eighty-year-old film. While there’s some fun during the Pleasure Island sequence, the rest of the film struggles to recreate the indelible images one associates with Disney’s Pinocchio.
Perhaps that’s the biggest issue with remaking Pinocchio in 2022 for Disney. It seems apparent that Zemeckis has no particular take on the iconic story, despite its proximity to fighting for freedom and critiques of fascism. Instead, we get the Disneyfied version, with only a single new plotline to vary up the story. The introduction of Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya) feels like a thread added by screenwriter Chris Weitz, and represents one of the only bright spots of the film.
Disney’s continued reliance on remaking these features has undeniably harmed the brand. Seemingly creating a string of inferior releases to their classics does little to support the originals. Instead, it highlights the lack of creativity from the filmmakers. For Zemeckis, this is his second remake in a row, and neither film delivers an obvious reason for why he would be interested in the remake.
The release of The Witches provided some new visual effects opportunities, but Pinocchio shockingly does little in this regard. Instead, the redesigned creatures that populate the world feel inauthentic. The donkeys and Monstro fail to provide shock or awe. Honest John (voiced by Keegan Michael-Key) gets to showcase some cartoonish tendencies but is often undermined by unfunny jokes. Perhaps the biggest frustration comes with the marionette sequences, which feel less innovative than one would expect. Despite technological advances, the characters feel more like the plastic one would expect in Toy Story than the wood that these items should emulate. Even a recurring gag with Gepetto’s clocks serves as an easter egg delivery machine, rather than an impressive visual effect display.
Frankly, most of the cast feels blameless for the obvious flaws. The movie squanders shorter performances from Erivo and Michael-Key. They give the movie much-needed energy and do not embrace the Robert Beginini-style caricatures that litter the film. Again, their jokes fall flat, but this feels like Zemeckis grasping at straws for anything interesting. Gordon-Levitt’s vocal turn brings out a Jimmy Stewart affectation, which actually suits the character well. Hanks is better served here than in Elvis, but given the reconnection with Zemeckis, we were clearly expecting more.
There’s no use continuing to pile on Pinocchio because it leaves your mind minutes after its conclusion. With few memorable sequences and inferior storytelling from its director, this adaptation falls flat. Families might find some joy in this, but hopefully, they’ll spend their time revisiting the class film instead.