Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Starring Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Tom Hanks, Luke Evans, Cynthia Erivo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key, Lorraine Bracco, Kyanne Lamaya, Jaquita Ta’le, Lewin Lloyd, Giuseppe Battiston, and Sheila Atim.
A wooden puppet embarks on a thrilling adventure to become a real boy.
The live-action/CGI hybrid Pinocchio remake (based on Disney’s Oscar-winning animated classic and Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio stories) is unhinged, which, if nothing else, is a reprieve from mind-numbingly lifeless (how plenty of these modern versions of Disney tales seem to be going lately).
Take Tom Hanks as lonely woodcarver Geppetto, who, in animated form, comes across as whimsical and relatively sane despite trying to bring a wooden doll to life. Here, that same material (directed by Robert Zemeckis with a script from Chris Weitz and Simon Farnaby) paints Geppetto as a raving nutjob that should be committed to the nearest insane asylum in this Italian village.
Somehow, this is also a backhanded compliment because it infers that Tom Hanks is giving a bonkers performance. It’s a turn that sees the legendary actor essentially putting on a one-man lunatic play for the first 20 minutes, trying to dramatically sell his loneliness while wishing for Pinocchio to become alive, all while talking to his cat and goldfish (both of which are rendered with ghastly special-effects containing no personality whatsoever).
As usual, our guide for this is once again the insect Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who finds himself escaping the cold and into Geppetto’s workshop searching for warmer weather. He casually observes everything mentioned above while navigating various ledges and objects as if this were a platforming video game.
Sure, it looks nice but similar to Robert Zemeckis’ previous effort, The Witches (and several other misses in his mixed bag catalog that is made only more frustrating by the notion that once upon a time, he made arguably the greatest live-action/animation hybrid film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), it’s distractingly calculated and seems to serve no purpose other than to show off what these technical wizards can accomplish.
Nevertheless, Cynthia Erivo arrives as a CGI interpretation of the Blue Fairy, looking like an ugly hologram. Fortunately, the questionable animation decisions can’t take away her magnificently soothing singing voice, with her rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star” as one of the film’s highlights. She has such a commanding and winning screen presence even in this hideously animated form that it’s a wonder why the screenwriters didn’t find more to do in this version.
Once the wish is granted, it falls on Jiminy Cricket to serve as Pinocchio’s (voiced by relative newcomer Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) conscience. Confused but overjoyed that he now has a boy, Geppetto and Pinocchio bond during a brief montage before the former decides it’s time to send the boy off to school. Naturally, this is also where Jiminy’s job is put to the test for the first time.
Unfortunately, school doesn’t go well, as the boys and the headmaster mock Pinocchio before kicking him out, who then is separated from Jiminy and inadvertently embarks on a series of misadventures. Geppetto is also searching for his missing boy, with all roads leading to an encounter with sea creature Monstro, yet another classic animated character turned into bland CGI sludge.
For those unaware of the traditional story, Pinocchio’s dream is to become a real boy, which he feels will make Geppetto happiest. The Blue Fairy gives him three simple guidelines to live by to become a real boy; selflessness, honesty, and courage. So it’s no surprise that these areas are challenged as Pinocchio interacts with the outside world.
Keeping in line with the opening act of this interpretation of Pinocchio, any time the real world interacts with CGI characters, the results are bafflingly loony. But when a talking wooden boy is being grifted by an anthropomorphic CGI red fox called Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) that it’s better to join the circus and become famous than being real, with a backdrop of real-world Italy, it’s practically impossible not to feel like you’re tripping on acid, which is not necessarily a compliment here. What was once magical and charming is off-the-charts weird, which is a recurring theme with these remakes even though they keep getting put into production (although I will admit Honest John is animated with personality, which is more than can be said for most of these character interpretations).
From there, Pinocchio ends up a hostage in a traveling show run by the eccentric and heavily bearded Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston) and also encounters a friend in aspiring ballerina dancer Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya), who performs a marionette show (with her doll voiced by Jaquita Ta’le). Since Pinocchio is done trusting humans, Fabiana uses that skill to her advantage and provides reassurance to Pinocchio that he will escape. For the most part, it’s a half-baked excuse for Pinocchio to interact with a female counterpart that disappointingly adds nothing to the story.
The third detour involves peer pressure and a trip to Pleasure Island, a free haven with no parental guardians. It’s also somewhat fitting that, by this point, Pinocchio has embraced operating as a roller coaster ride because that’s all this movie is. There are minor attempts to expand on the themes at play (such as the deceptive assertion by Honest John that celebrities are the honest ones), but it’s majorly Robert Zemeckis doing his damnedest to turn this into a spectacle, and there’s no denying that he succeeds given the extremely detailed animation and highly elaborate set-pieces. In doing so and leaning so hard on razzle-dazzle, he has stripped the narrative of its soul.
This version of Pinocchio is still about a wooden boy that wants to be real, but with artificial execution. It’s a hollow and mostly pointless remake that is only moderately engaging for Tom Hanks delivering a loco performance and its musical numbers. There may be no strings to hold Pinocchio down, but there sure are strings on Robert Zemeckis, continuing to pump out late-career, factory-assembled, disposable junk.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com8