82 years after the release of Disney’s animated take on the tale of a wooden puppet that comes to life, a live-action remake lands on their streaming service, Disney+. Pinocchio is the newest musical fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis. This is Disney’s latest retelling of a classic story about a puppet named Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who is brought to life by The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) and goes on an incredible adventure. Unfortunately, while this story took the world by storm in 1940 and became the first animated feature to win a competitive Oscar, this remake is not destined to reach anywhere near that level.
Pinocchio is the latest installment in Disney’s series of lazy, never-ending live-action remakes of classic animated films. We’ve seen many of them lately, with The Lion King and Mulan as the two most recent entries. Since Pinocchio came out decades ago, it makes more sense to revitalize a product that has not aged as well. Remember that the original film is a G-rated movie that includes smoking, drinking, and slave labor. This remake doesn’t go that dark. While it’s a step in the right direction, this film is hardly a story worth watching, as it changes details from the original movie — sometimes not for the better.
Zemeckis has always been a strong visual director. He innovated special effects in the Back to the Future trilogy and has continued to push the envelope in films like The Polar Express and Welcome to Marwen. He’s the perfect director for a live-action remake of a Disney film and he does an excellent job here. Pinocchio, the wooden puppet, is brought to life marvelously against these real-life backgrounds. The CGI is flawless as we have all of these characters, like Jiminy Cricket and Honest John, brought to life in a realistic setting.
But like with all movies of this type, there are upsides and downsides. While the characters look realistic and Pinocchio has a wonderful design, it can sometimes feel like Honest John’s design is too realistic to capture Keegan Michael-Key’s phenomenal comedic energy. Lorraine Bracco’s voice role as a seagull named Sofia is another instance of a character whose voice does not juxtapose well with a live-action design. It works better with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s work as Jiminy Cricket, as he has an excellent design. Gordon-Levitt is an unexpectedly strong casting choice, as he sounds very different from his usual self and works well for the role.
The story is also not what it should be. The film generally sticks to the source material but wastes the opportunity to build on it. We’re getting a more sanitized version of the 1940 tale, but Pinocchio can’t help but feel directionless in its storytelling. Some of this movie feels like it’s making itself up as it goes along, making its structure a little too apparent. The film is divided into Pinocchio facing obstacles, overcoming them, then facing another obstacle — over and over again. It just feels like a movie where things happen before you get the chance to care about what’s going on.
Pinocchio lacks the sharp writing, setups, and payoffs that a story like this should have. It feels like the movie sacrificed the potential for a cohesive story for sequences that simply feel like theme park rides. It never deeply explores the character relationships or arcs when it could have been much richer in that department. As a result, the emotional third act feels hollow and ineffective because the movie never fully utilized its potential to tell a story that can resonate with audiences everywhere. Instead, it just feels like the movie is going through the motions of adapting the original film.
All in all, Pinocchio ends up as a frustrating experience. It never feels like the characters had arcs, even if that’s what the film wants you to believe. The strongest elements are the two lead performances from Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Pinocchio and Tom Hanks as Geppetto. Unfortunately, the pacing slows down whenever the film cuts back to Geppetto’s subplot, where he searches for Pinocchio. It’s never investing because not enough work was done to flesh out Geppetto’s emotions. The result is a technically superb film, complete with Zemeckis’s eye for whimsical visuals, without a story to match.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 5 equates to “Mediocre.” The positives and negatives wind up negating each other, making it a wash.
Disclosure: The critic received a screener link for ComingSoon’s Pinocchio review.