Robert Zemeckis is one of the few directors who’s able to do the best with special effects as well as the regular story. His movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit set the standard in its form. There has been a mixture of live-action and animation before but you could always tell it was actors in a cartoon or a cartoon off to the side of an actor. But this movie made it appear the two were actually co-existed by adding shadows and reflections off lights to the cartoons.
So, why does Pinocchio, the latest live-action remake of a Disney classic seem, for lack of a better word, so wooden? Did Disney realize something was wrong and they decided to dump it on Disney-Plus rather than give it a theatrical release? This is Zemeckis’ second film following the less than stellar Welcome to Marwen that has gone to TV or a streaming service. There have been numerous adaptations of Pinocchio including one by Roberto Benigni who decided it was going to be the follow-up to his Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful. It was considered one of the worst movies of the 2002 year.
The story is the same as the 1940 Disney animated movie but with a few little tweaks here and there. On Pleasure Island, the kids don’t smoke cigars but they do drink beer and do a lot worse. Pleasure Island is blown up and shows more kids doing anything they feel like but it’s a little exagerrated. There’s also some changes in how it’s revealed the kids are turned into donkeys. It doesn’t come off as creepy as it did in the 1940 movie. But still it comes as less of a surprise becasue Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sees some shadow creatures working with the Coachman (Luke Evans) to wrangle the donkeys.
Tom Hanks does his best hamming it up as Geppeto, the lonely Italian woodcarver grieving the death of his own son. And Benjamin Evan Ainsworth has the best jovial young voice for the titular character, but the character doesn’t really have the joy to it. One of the best performance is by Keegan-Michael Key who plays the scheming fox Honest John. He does so well in his short performance, you wish he was in it longer. And Cynthia Erivo is a delight to see as The Blue Fairy who makes Pinocchio come alive.
But one of the biggest problem is Jiminy Cricket. It’s not Gordon-Levitt’s fault but the writing this time as Pinocchio’s “conscience” makes him a bigger character than he needs to be. There’s not much of a good flow from scene to scene. Since the movie follows most of the 1940 animated version, you wished they’d find a way to mix it up a little. The scene with the sea monster isn’t as thrilling nor as exciting as it should be. And the direction is to just go from one scene that we’re familiar with to another.
I know it’s just a kids movie, but it still can be made better than what we get. Paddington 2 managed to have the perfect mix of animation and live-action and a great plot. There’s too many Easter eggs and meta jokes as Geppeto’s clocks including other Disney characters. This worked in the Chip N’ Dale movie. It doesn’t fit here. I did like a joke Honest John says for Pinocchio’s stage name especially since that actor has been in the news a lot lately. But even if that wasn’t their case, the name is still a catchy one for an actor who is a wooden doll.
The animation is better than what Zemeckis gave us in The Polar Express especially since it was also one of the jokes in the Chip N’ Dale movie. But Honest John and his silent cat partner Gideon look worse than Pinocchio or Figaro the Cat. The kids might enjoy the movie but I think the adults will be a little bummed that it doesn’t end with Pinocchio turning into a boy just something Jiminy addresses breaking the fourth wall.
And that’s the problem. The movie feels unfinished. It just ends. If you’re going to do a live-action remake, you don’t have to do everything exactly the same but this is one that has to be included. Zemeckis co-wrote the movie with Chris Weitz, so I don’t know why they thought the movie should just end with Jiminy saying there were some other stories about Pinocchio that might or might not be true. Hanks already made this movie with Finch in which he was able to create a robot that could feel love and humanity.
Maybe some people just love the 1940 cartoon too much, it shouldn’t have been messed with. But wait, we’re not out of the woods yet. Guillermo Del Toro is also directing his own version of the famous story for Netflix later this year. I’m just wondering if Del Toro will take it down the darker path of the original source novel written by Carlo Collodi.
What do you think? Please comment.