This review originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.
Reboots of beloved movie franchises are nothing new. Counting up just the actors who have played Batman or James Bond requires two hands now. Despite that, nobody really cares that there were enough Spider-Man reboots to make a whole movie about them for instance. They all found a way to make a mark with their audience which is all that really matters.
At the same time, there’s just something that’s felt off about Disney trying to reboot their most iconic animated franchises as live action/CGI properties. Maybe it’s the slow erosion of hand drawn animation in favor of oftentimes haunting computer-generated creations or perhaps it’s just proof of that vaunted Disney magic being irreplicable. Whatever it is, there’s just something about these movies that give off the slimy feel of cheap cash grabs or content filler, even if they sometimes sound like they would work on paper. Of course, remaking Pinocchio in order to be able to cast Tom Hanks as Geppetto probably doesn’t even sound that good on paper.
In a way, that makes it all the more impressive that Hanks delivers the only really noteworthy performance in the whole movie. This revarnishing of Pinocchio gives Geppetto a more tragic backstory, one that surprisingly tugs at the heart strings thanks to another typical Hanks tour de force on screen. It also makes it a shame that Disney wastes Hanks’ time and talent by casting him in this otherwise rickety reproduction.
In many respects, the problems with Pinocchio begin and end with the CGI. Jiminy Cricket, voiced by an unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is downright creepy to look at. Other CGI and live action mixtures have recognized the need to keep something similar to the original design in mind, see any of The Smurfs reboots or the recent Tom & Jerry movie for proof. Pinocchio, for whatever reason, decided to make Jiminy look, well, a whole lot like a cricket. It’s just uncomfortable, and certainly doesn’t give off the kind of magical vibe that Disney should be shooting for.
Other elements such as the childhood-scarring donkey transformation scene at Pleasure Island somehow look even more disturbing as if Disney’s production team decided to double down on what was already a questionably creepy scene and setup. Even mundane or arguably cute elements of the movie, Geppetto’s cat and goldfish for example, receive these ill-advised CGI treatments too.
When combined with the relative monotone of the rest of the movie, it really makes it hard to understand where Disney was coming from in regard to creative integrity in making Pinocchio. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a lot of the performances or the plot either. They’re just either primarily boring or counterbalanced too heavily by questionable scripting decisions.
Gordon-Levitt’s voicework as Jiminy and Keegan Michael-Key’s work as Honest John are passable, and occasionally brush into an inspired moment or two, but never really stand out on their own. Kyanne Lamaya also plays the movie’s new character, Fabiana, with an appropriately heartfelt touch even if she doesn’t affect the plot much.
Speaking of that plot, the changes that Disney and Robert Zemeckis’ screenplay do make largely help tweak the original message of the movie in a positive way. Without delving into spoilers on those changes, Pinocchio does deliver a commendable message in the end which should count for something.
Some questionable changes tend to tarnish positives like that, however. The sidelining of the Blue Fairy into a quick cameo seems like a massive miss, especially since Cynthia Erivo delivers the only memorable singing performance of the entire movie. The lack of development in Fabiana’s character is also regrettable. She has several emotional moments that just don’t land like they should have, almost as if Disney left a lot of her character work on the cutting room floor in order to squeeze the movie into a more kid-friendly runtime.
In other words, Pinocchio is largely a wash. It finds a way to neither be daring enough to count as a worthwhile reboot nor capable of recapturing the same kind of magic that made the original Disney animations into classics. Pinocchio is sadly a splintered and hollow production of a story that deserves better.
Spotlight Score: 5/10