Review: Robert Zemeckis' 'Pinocchio' is a Live-Action Disappointment

September 8, 2022

Pinocchio Review

Having in mind the most recent years, Hollywood has been trying to amplify the "twin films" phenomenon whenever it happens - two (or sometimes more) movies about the same story produced and released within a short period of time by different studios. The examples are vast over the last few decades, and a quick search for the term will surprise anyone who believes such an event rarely occurs. In fact, with this concept, it's more unusual for two films about precisely the same narrative and featuring the exact same protagonist to be released in the very same year. This is the case with Pinocchio, which is also being adapted into an animated version by Guillermo del Toro - scheduled for the end of November - and a Disney live-action reinterpretation lead by director Robert Zemeckis. Unfortunately, the latter isn't very impressive… at all.

Personally, Pinocchio (the original 1940 film) is not an animated feature from Disney's catalog for which I hold enormous nostalgia, especially compared to all the other classic Disney stories that marked my childhood. I haven't rewatched the original since I was a child, so I had some limited expectations for a new perspective on a tale I didn't remember that well to begin with. Unlike some viewers and critics worldwide, I have absolutely nothing against Disney's live-action remakes. Truth be told, I consider a few superior to the originals, so personal interest was more than enough to enjoy this latest offering from Disney.

However, Zemeckis and co-writer Chris Weitz's screenplay lacks creativity and character exploration, both familiar & new. Tom Hanks embodies Geppetto's caring, protective, fun personality, but Pinocchio raises intriguing questions from his past without ever offering a more substantial answer to the younger audience – it's necessary not to forget who the target audience is for this one. Cynthia Erivo (playing The Blue Fairy) and Luke Evans (playing The Coachman) use their short screen time well, showcasing their singing skills, while Giuseppe Battiston seems to enjoy the craziness of his role as Stromboli.

Unfortunately, all are treated as mere cameos. The remaining characters with more time to shine end up being wasted, like Kyanne Lamaya, who plays a brand new character, Fabiana, as well as her puppet, Sabina. The actress delivers quite a captivating performance in addition to being gifted with a musical talent that could offer her a promising career. Pity that her character is extremely underdeveloped, used as a mere "happy circumstance" to help the protagonist in trouble. Regarding the vocal performances, there are many positive highlights, but Benjamin Evan Ainsworth falls short of the importance of the leading role – the young actor's inexperience is too noticeable.

Pinocchio Review

It's hard to choose between Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Jiminy Cricket) and Keegan-Michael Key (as Honest John) as the best voice in this movie, as both are impressively dedicated to their characters. The former is almost unrecognizable with his change of tone and accent, while Key uses all his uniquely effusive dynamics to catch the viewers' attention. The musical numbers are necessary breaths of fresh air to generate some enthusiasm, as the narrative doesn't deviate from what the audience already knows about the 1940s flick. More than 80 years after the original, the magic and fascination don't maintain those same levels, partly due to the inconsistency of mixing animation elements with real backgrounds.

Pinocchio is the better accomplished CGI character, crafted as a perfect live-action replica of its original animated version, as is Honest John. However, Zemeckis makes the characters interact not only with humans but often in real locations, creating that "uncanny valley" feeling where something never feels quite right. From humans picking up Pinocchio to the shadows of the various animated characters, the visual effects are far from being convincing. In addition to all of this, some designs are pretty underwhelming, namely Jiminy Cricket and Figaro the cat - by far the worst animated element of the movie.

Of the few changes to the original plot, the conclusion is arguably the most significant change. Without contradicting the script's general lack of imagination, the truth is that the ending fits much better these days, conveying an even more meaningful, thematically profound message while maintaining respect and admiration for the essence of last century's story. Honestly, Pinocchio is one of those cases where I just can't figure out how it will be received. On one hand, it does enough to entertain the audience it targets. On the other hand, I don't think it offers anything of unparalleled value compared to the original, so the best option will be to go back to 1940 if you want to revisit this story - at least until del Toro's version comes out.

Final Thoughts

Pinocchio boasts a more thematically impactful ending than the original but fails to deliver a new version of the famous childhood tale with the same magic and allure of the past. Tom Hanks and most of the voice cast embody the spirit of the 1940's flick perfectly, but the characters lack further development and imaginative modifications. The blend between animation and CGI components with real humans and sets is awkwardly inconsistent, leaving the viewers with a weird sensation throughout the whole runtime. The cast's musical prowess & memorable songs help keep it entertaining, but overall, it's a somewhat disappointing new take.

Manuel's Rating: C
Follow Manuel on Twitter - @msbreviews / Or Letterboxd - @msbreviews

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