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So-so ‘Pinocchio’ Disney’s latest live-action remake

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Among the odder developments of the last decade or so of big-budget moviemaking is the Disney trend of making live-action versions of their beloved animated classics. The powers that be at Big Mouse saw the opportunity to commodify nostalgia to an even greater extent than they already had, resulting in a spate of films that turned cartoons into the third dimension (though in some respects, “live-action” is a bit of a misnomer – there’s still LOADS of computer animation at work in these films).

Of course, the ongoing success of these films – not always critically, but definitely commercially – meant that we would keep seeing largely unnecessary remakes being trotted out to be eagerly consumed by those looking for new ways to engage with old memories.

Which brings us to “Pinocchio,” the latest effort to reengage with a beloved classic. This one – directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay alongside Chris Weitz – offers audiences a new look at the beloved tale of a marionette granted sentience and his quest to figure out how to become a real boy, with plenty of adventures along the way.

Unfortunately, this film suffers from the same big issue that many of its live-action remake brethren do – it simply feels unneeded. That isn’t to say that it’s terrible – it’s generally inoffensive, with a few interesting moments. It’s just that it’s hard to feel that strongly about a film that we have, in essence, seen before.

Our fourth wall-breaking narrator/framing device is Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a vagabond insect searching for a warm place to lay his head and – unconsciously – some sense of purpose. He winds up in the studio/shop of the woodcarver Geppetto (Tom Hanks), an aging craftsman whose own sadness leaves him unable to part with the things that he makes. He’s got his companions – a cat named Figaro, a fish named Cleo – but he’s still a very lonely man. His latest project – inspired by a young person from his past – is a meticulously-constructed marionette. A little wooden boy. That night, he catches a glimpse of the wishing star and wishes upon it.

Miraculously, his wish is heard. The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) turns up and grants Geppetto’s request, breathing life into the puppet the woodcarver had named Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). As part of his quest to become real, he needs someone to guide him on the path of right and wrong. The Fairy gives the job to Jiminy Cricket.

Of course, Geppetto is at first terrified and then elated at his new ward. The two fall into an immediate father/son dynamic, but it isn’t long before Geppetto realizes that young Pinocchio must have experiences out in the world. So, with some misgivings, he sends the puppet off to school.

And then things get VERY complicated.

Pinocchio meets a shady fox named Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) who sells him out to a lunatic puppet show proprietor named Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston); it’s here that he meets and befriends a young puppeteer named Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya). From there, he winds up wandering the streets and getting snatched up by the Coachman (Luke Evans), who whisks him away to the hedonistic Pleasure Island for nefarious reasons. From THERE, it’s off to sea in an effort to track down Geppetto, who is himself trying to track down Pinocchio, and it does not go well.

And on and on we go, as the little wooden boy strives desperately to find his way toward the realness that he so deeply desires.

We’ve already noted the pure unnecessariness of this live-action “Pinocchio,” so it doesn’t need to be readdressed here. However, this leads into another major issue with the film – blandness. There’s very little of the charm that made the original such a beloved story; the script feels poorly constructed, marking time between beats that never manage to pay off to the extent that they need to. The writing is a bit clunky and the storytelling feels rote; it’s all rather generic, I’m afraid.

All is not lost, however. While the movie’s vibes ultimately underwhelm, there’s no disputing that “Pinocchio” has some outstanding visual moments. The CGI work is actually pretty exceptional, with a few showstopping moments – the arrival at Pleasure Island, for one, as well as the third act entrance of the monstrous Monstro. And our CGI characters – from Jiminy Cricket to Honest John to our titular little wooden boy – are all surprisingly engaging; there’s little of the uncanniness that sometimes undermines these sorts of efforts.

The music is solid as well, with a couple of new tunes sharing sonic space with many of the original’s classic songs. The highlights are the ones you’d expect – “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “I’ve Got No Strings” – but new addition “The Coachman to Pleasure Island” is definitely a banger.

And there are some quality performances happening here. As America’s dad, Tom Hanks is a wonderful choice for the kindly, soft-spoken Geppetto; sure, his Italian accent is a bit hit-or-miss, but the energy he brings to the character is spot-on. Young Benjamin Ainsworth does good work as the naïve Pinocchio, vocally evoking the wide-eyed energy conveyed by the excellent animation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt felt like an odd choice for Jiminy Cricket at the start, but by the film’s end, I absolutely embraced his aw-shucks take on the iconic insect. Key is a hammy delight as Honest John, while Lorraine Bracco handles her business in a couple of scenes as a seagull. Among the live performers, Erivo is a standout – no surprise there – while Luke Evans goes HARD as the Coachman and might well be having the most fun of anybody in the entire film.

In the end, we didn’t need another “Pinocchio.” Certainly not one that fails to reproduce the charming energy of the original. Instead, despite the good faith efforts of the people involved, what we got is a movie that never quite makes the transition from wooden puppet to real boy.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 12 September 2022 14:39

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