“Pinocchio,” like its main character, a wooden puppet, is stuck in a limbo between life and death. The latest live-action adaptation of a Disney animated classic walks a fine line between being faithful to the original and updating the story for a new generation of viewers. Some of the lines are classics, while others are snarky one-liners. Neither is it a real boy, but neither is it a simple piece of wood.
With new songs and cheeky pop culture references, Robert Zemeckis’s high-tech reimagining stays true to the Italian children’s novel source material and the 1940 original film. (Most of them fall flat and seem contrived, but one is hilarious) You still get “When You Wish Upon a Star” (with Cynthia Erivo’s impressive vocals as the Blue Fairy), but you also get some meta-jokes and insights into the challenges of parenting, schooling, and the media spotlight. The end product is a confusing stew that has its bright spots (exuberant moments, funny jokes), but is never truly remarkable.
Even so, it is not surprising that Zemeckis, in his capacity as director and co-writer with Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”), would want to take on such a massive project. Just as the original “Pinocchio” was groundbreaking in its artistic complexity, Zemeckis has always pushed the possibilities of animation and visual effects, from the dazzling hybrid of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” to his pioneering use of motion capture in “The Polar Express.” (And thanks to advances in technology, human characters no longer appear quite so frighteningly rubbery as they did in 2004.)
While many of the film’s details are convincingly real to the touch, the new “Pinocchio” appears to be entirely computer-generated. Towards the end of the journey, when the cheerful puppet finds himself inside the gaping maw of a terrifying sea monster, this becomes especially apparent. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so it’s a good thing that Jiminy Cricket (Zemeckis’ “The Walk” star Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is here to narrate the film and keep us on track with his upbeat commentary.
A Feast For The Eyes, But Lacking In Substance
This version of the Disney classic stays true to the source material. In honor of his late son, Geppetto the old Italian craftsman creates Pinocchio. He makes the puppet come to life by making a wish on a star. Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket embark on an adventure to help the puppet become a real boy by teaching him to be brave, honest, and selfless.
The plot is simple and easy to follow. Numerous villains try to steer Pinocchio off the straight and narrow, but he always manages to get back on track with the help of Jiminy Cricket.
It’s endearing in its simplicity and sweetness, but it lacks complexity. You won’t be provoked to think or feel more than is necessary by this story.
Pinocchio isn’t the most interesting character in the show, despite the fact that there are many others. To be naive is one thing, but the protagonist here seems to lack any sort of distinct character. He has no control over the situation and others pay little attention to his desire to act like a “real boy.”
Aside from the scene where he dies, the one where he lies is the most interesting thing about him. In telling these fibs, he becomes more fully realized and dimensional, more like a real boy. The film missed an opportunity to make a powerful statement about what it means to be real and human by not delving deeper into character traits like these. Instead, this is a fleeting scene, and the rest of the movie has Pinocchio acting like a goody-two-shoes who only gets into mischief because he doesn’t know any better.
A more interesting character would be Jiminy. He has many strengths and talents and is responsible for something larger than himself. Seeing the tiny cricket take on this literally gigantic task with such incredible tenacity is fascinating. Another instance where a stronger argument could have been made.
It would have been interesting to watch Jiminy’s self-assurance waver as he began to question his ability to recognize right from wrong. It would have been more moving, and more true to the modern spirit, if we could have seen Jiminy grapple with the ambiguity and nuance that characterizes our own time and place.
Critique Of Pinocchio: The Wooden Version Adds Nothing New To The Story
There has been a mixed track record for Disney’s live-action remakes of the company’s beloved animated films. Some have succeeded in bringing fresh energy to tired tales, while others have delivered cold cash grabs that fail to capture the magic of the movies they were based on.
Zemeckis and Chris Weitz (About A Boy) rework Disney’s 1940 animated feature Pinocchio, about a wooden puppet brought to life by a fairy who becomes entangled in various adventures while trying to become a “real boy.” (Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, from 1883, served as the basis for the first animated film adaptation of the character.)
In the end, Pinocchio comes to appreciate his own worth and Geppetto’s unconditional love for his adopted son, regardless of whether he is made of painted wood or flesh and bone. This is a story about learning right from wrong, the nature of family, and what it means to be human.
Tom Hanks plays Geppetto in the film, the lonely, good-natured woodcarver whose wish is granted when Pinocchio comes to life. Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices Jiminy Cricket, the anthropomorphic insect who acts as Pinocchio’s conscience, and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who played the ghost of Bly Manor in The Haunting of Bly Manor, voices Pinocchio.
When compared to other re-imaginings of classic works, Pinocchio doesn’t put nearly enough creative effort into its own adaptation to stand out.
This Pinocchio does not add anything new to the discussion of the story’s themes; instead, it merely rehashes the lessons of a movie that came out eight decades ago, albeit in a different typeface.
In the end, audiences who are already familiar with the 1940 film are likely to wonder why they need to see a live-action adaptation of Pinocchio, while newcomers to the story should hopefully realize they’re better off watching the original film.
If you misbehave, bad things will happen to you, just like in one of Aesop’s Fables, and this is the story’s overt thesis in Pinocchio. Not only has this message not aged badly, but it has also not been widely criticized.