NOW ON DISNEY+! There’s no stopping the Dream Factory machine. Having almost entirely run out of original ideas, it’s shamelessly regurgitating classics, shot-by-shot, adding woke themes to make the old seem new, eradicating any semblance of the magic that made the original a classic in the first place. Disney leads the charge with its fourteenth remake in a dozen years, Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio. Zemeckis lost his own magic touch a long time ago (circa 1997’s Contact, arguably his last great film), but he’s still Zemeckis. This shameless excuse for children’s entertainment would be a blemish on any hack’s resume.
The story remains the same… too much so. The filmmaker, along with co-writer Chris Weitz, lazily rehash all the highlights from the original. Geppetto (Hanks) crafts Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) out of fine pine. The old man wishes upon a star, which brings about the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo), who turns Pinocchio into an “almost real boy.” She also knights Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as his conscience. In come the sly fox, Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key), and his dumb, silent feline sidekick Gideon, coaxing the wooden lad into performing for a puppet show. Pinocchio escapes, briefly ends up at Pleasure Island, where naughty boys get turned into donkeys, then miraculously stumbles upon Geppetto before getting swallowed by a whale sea monster. The rest is history.
There’s not much I can say about the $150-million travesty that hasn’t already been said by my fellow critics: using clever puns like “wooden,” “a lifeless chunk of wood,” “wood for brains,” and so on. Hanks has rightfully been criticized for yet again, after Elvis, playing an eccentric puppet master with a terrible accent. As Geppetto, he spends most of the time by himself conversing with a bunch of pixels. He was way more believable chatting up Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away. Perhaps the aptest description I’ve heard was by my Film Threat colleague editor Alan Ng, who called it “a great film to show your daughter what a horror film looks like.”
“Pinocchio escapes, briefly ends up at Pleasure Island, where naughty boys get turned into donkeys…”
Pinocchio is frightening for more than one reason. First is its utter soullessness. Where the original classic evoked wonder and joy in every meticulously hand-drawn frame, this digitized replica, and its detached, wide-eyed hero who never seems to belong in the real world, is bound to cause the wee ones nightmares. Where the original dazzled with its boldness and imagination, the few new touches here either feel forcefully inserted to pander to the new generation of young filmgoers (Honest John casually references influencers) or are just plain off-putting (“I guess it’s the best he can do with the tools he’s got,” Jiminy says in reference to Geppetto’s impotence.)
Questions that never occurred to me while watching the OG now haunt me. How is Figaro a real cat while Sofia the seagull (Lorraine Bracco), Gideon, and Honest John (and that damn goldfish, Cleo) are anthropomorphized? How does Cleo survive getting eaten and then spit out by the sea monster, among other things? Why is the entire Pleasure Island sequence reduced to a negligible side-note with no discernible resolution? Why are the themes spelled out so glaringly? What happened to the director of the Back to the Future trilogy? Why am I eating Cheetos again?
It’s not all terrible, I guess. The special effects, when not stepping into the uncanny valley, are appropriately impressive, as is the colorful set design. From the cast, Gordon-Levitt perhaps fares best as the narrating, wise-cracking cricket. But Pinocchio feels manufactured to appease everyone, with nary an original bone in its wooden body (there, I did it too). Will the tidal wave of negative feedback stop Disney from milking these cash cows? With Peter Pan & Wendy, The Little Mermaid, and Snow White on the way, the answer is: not as long as audiences keep guzzling it.
"…will the tidal wave of negative feedback stop Disney from milking these cash cows?"