Pinocchio is one of the most beloved movies in Disney history, and the latest to get a live-action remake. Brought to us by director Robert Zemeckis (who gave us his version of The Witches two years back), and starring Tom Hanks as Geppetto. Zemeckis’ Pinocchio tries to be the same as the original 1940 animated film, from the look and feel of the characters, yet falls short in terms of heart and soul. From the start, it seemed like a live-action remake of such a beloved classic like Pinocchio was a bad idea. What with all the different versions of Carlo Collodi’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio out there (plus Guillermo Del Toro’s stop-motion feature set to be released on Netflix sometime this year). Disney also wants a piece of the wooden pie as the studio has been known to keep churning out those remakes. Yet this version looked to be the Disney-est of them all. For some reason, however, I do not hear people clamoring to check out the latest in Disney’s live-action remake roster, despite being dumped on Disney+, where families can check it out for free if they have the service.
Being that it is another Disney remake (and of one of my favorite childhood classics), I decided to check out Zemeckis’ Pinocchio. I have heard the disdain from many and was not holding out hope for it to be any good. Needless to say, disappointment has filled the air, even more than when The Lion King went through a photorealistic upgrade back in 2019, no thanks to Jon Favreau. I could forgive that disaster, with all its flaws, being that it knew what it wanted to be and succeeded on a visual standpoint. Zemeckis’ Pinocchio, however, is not sure whether it wants to be just like its animated counterpart or something different. It wants to satisfy fans of the original with its bright visuals, Italian-setting, and picture-perfect character designs (props especially go to Jiminy Cricket with Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing a dead-on Cliff Edwards impersonation), yet also feels pressured to conform to modern sensibilities, which, in turn, cheapens its messages, albeit adding very little to nothing of substance.
The story, of course, is the same, up to a point. We have Geppetto, a humble, yet lonely woodcarver as he makes a boy of pine, which he names “Pinocchio”. This version adds a reason for why Geppetto made him, giving him a bit more of a sympathetic depth, yet feels unearned all the same (even Hanks’ performance sounds a bit too quiet). On a star, Geppetto wishes for a son. In comes The Blue Fairy (A totally underutilized Cynthia Ervo) to make that happen, by bringing life into the recently-carved puppet boy (Voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), and appointing Jiminy as his conscience while he learns about being “brave, truthful, and unselfish” in order to become a real boy. As you can guess, Pinocchio goes on an adventure, where he runs into all sorts of conniving characters determined to stop him on his quest. Whether it be the eccentric fox “Honest” John (Voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) promising him fame, greedy puppeteer Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston) looking to make a profit off the puppet, or the wicked coachman (Luke Evans), who takes him and many other kids to a place called “Pleasure Island” where kids can do anything their hearts’ desire, only to suffer some horrifying consequences, or the terrifying sea creature Monstro.
I say, up to a point, because by the time Zemeckis’ Pinocchio reaches its third act and conclusion, everything this remake has tried to be switches gears by abandoning what made the original film (and many versions that have come before) work. Instead, we have to set through a bunch of meta-commentary, out-of-place references and jokes that barely get a laugh (save for one exchange between Hanks’ Geppetto and Pinocchio near the climax). As far as Disney remakes go, Zemeckis’ Pinocchio fails to outdo its predecessor in more ways than one, instead sitting right at the bottom of the barrel.