After pioneering feature-length animation with the technical and creative excellence of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Disney released Pinocchio in 1940. It was an adaptation of Italian author Carlo Collodi’s children’s tale, published in novel form in 1883. The film was another triumph, creating images that have become iconic childhood memories. Jiminy Cricket with his top hat, Pinocchio’s nose growing, Monstro the whale splashing into the water — they are all indelible.
In recent years, Disney’s slate has been full of live-action versions of its animated films. And now, it’s Pinocchio‘s turn. The story of a puppet who wants to be a real boy was always a simple, but emotional, narrative. But this live-action Pinocchio isn’t devoted enough to certain necessary story elements of the original animated film to truly shine.
“When somebody calls themselves honest, they ain’t.”
The brilliance of this tale is the way Pinocchio must learn how to be human before becoming one. This is true of Collodi’s original story and Disney’s animated classic. Pinocchio goes through painful and even frightening things to become real. He truly gains the knowledge he needs through his mistakes.
The biggest flaw of this new film is the way it disregards this powerful moral. Oh, Pinocchio goes through those same things. Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis and his co-writer Chris Weitz make sure they rigidly follow the plot. But in the film’s final moments — SPOILER ALERT — they cop out and leave it up to the audience whether or not Pinocchio actually became real.
I mean, are they kidding? Pinocchio becoming real is the entire point of the story. Zemeckis and Weitz even go to the trouble of explicitly giving Geppetto a son who died in this version, which is not present in Collodi’s story or the animated film, and they still chose to end their film this way.
The screenplay is fine up until that point. A tad forgettable, perhaps, compared with the animated film, but watchable. But then, part of Jiminy’s ending voiceover is, “People say he was transformed into an honest-to-goodness real boy. Did that actually happen? Who knows?… In his heart, Pinocchio was as real as any real boy could ever be.”
That’s certainly a choice.
“You have to prove that you are brave, truthful, and unselfish.”
The problems with the script here are a shame because a valid case could easily be made that the animated Pinocchio is the apex of Disney animated artistry. For example, a close look at the Monstro sequences reveals the influence of Japanese woodcut art.
Also, these live-action remakes often have stunning design going for them, at the very least. It would have been nice for this film to make some successful strides forward in this area. But the visuals here are too aggressively faithful to its animated forebear. The CGI can be overpowering. But Pinocchio himself looks great, and he moves authentically like a child.
As for the music, that’s another area where the animated original proves to be superior. There’s a reason why “When You Wish Upon a Star” is the music accompanying the Disney company logo. It perfectly captures the ethos of the brand, and it’s wonderful. Cynthia Erivo performs it admirably, as well.
The other actors, especially Tom Hanks as Geppetto and Luke Evans as the Coachman, are committed to the tone this version establishes. So, that’s something. As is the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s voice is almost unrecognizable under Jiminy Cricket’s Southern accent. He really nails it. Since his voice essentially carries the audience through the story, that’s a positive thing.
However, the story missteps outweigh the other elements of this version of Pinocchio and hold it down.
3 stars out of 5
Pinocchio is now streaming on Disney Plus.