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Should I Watch..? Pinocchio (2022 live-action)

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Teaser poster

Teaser poster

What's the big deal?

Pinocchio is a musical fantasy film released in 2022 and is a live-action remake of Disney's 1940 version of the same name. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film is loosely based on the original 1883 book by Carlo Collodi and follows a magically enchanted marionette who comes to life and endeavours to become a real boy with the help of others around him. This film stars Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo, Luke Evans and Giuseppe Battiston with voice performances by Benjamin Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keegan-Michael Key and Lorraine Bracco. The film began development back in 2015 and is part of Disney's wider strategy of remaking many of their animated films as modern live-action films such as Beauty And The Beast, Dumbo and the forthcoming The Little Mermaid. The film was not released in theatres, instead premiering exclusively on Disney's streaming service. The film did not get a positive response from critics who compared the film unfavourably to the much-loved animated original although there was some praise for Hanks' performance and some of the film's visual effects.

Forgettable

What's it about?

In a small village in Italy in 1895, elderly widowed woodcarver Geppetto lives alone in his workshop with only his cat Figaro and his fish Cleo for company. Despite an obvious talent and a shop full of novelty clocks, Geppetto devotes most of his time to his latest creation - a wooden puppet resembling his own deceased son whom he names Pinocchio, as he's been carved from pine. As he begins to fall asleep, Geppetto sees a wishing star and quietly wishes that Pinocchio was a real boy instead of a puppet. While Geppetto is asleep and witnessed by vagrant cricket Jiminy, the workshop is visited by a blue fairy who grants Geppetto's wish and makes Pinocchio come to life.

The Fairy explains to Pinocchio that in order to become a real boy, he must be brave and truthful and behave in a selfless way. After appointing Jiminy as Pinocchio's conscience with the responsibility of teaching him right from wrong, she disappears and leaves Geppetto to make his astonishing discovery. Immediately taking him as a surrogate son, Geppetto urges Pinocchio to go to school and the wooden boy takes off enthusiastically into the outside world. But despite Jiminy's best efforts, the world is full of temptations and ulterior motives and the spectacle of a living wooden boy quickly draws many who would exploit him.

Trailer

What's to like?

No doubt horrified by the fact that the animated original was now over eighty years old, the film puts a great emphasis on its visual presentation. Instead of hand-drawn illustrations, the film puts on a CG extravaganza which is so all-encompassing that it's sometimes hard to tell where it stops and real life starts. Much of the film looks superb such as Figaro, Geppetto's cat companion or the character of Honest John who doesn't get enough screen time for my liking. Because the film is obviously a fantasy fairy-tale, this commitment to life-like visuals gives the story an odd realism despite the incongruous nature of talking foxes dressed like theatre agents walking the streets alongside everyday people.

Perhaps understanding that this film shouldn't be above the level of pantomime, Hanks gives a surprisingly emotive performance as Geppetto. I can't say I was a fan of some of the film's changes to the book to give the character more of a tragic backstory but Hanks strikes an uncomfortable balance between a lonely and bereaved man and an overly excitable ham. Most of the other human cast don't appear outside of a few scenes which is a pity - Evans works hard as the demonic Cockney Coachman (although his use of English profanity is no way suitable for a film like this) and Battiston, the only Italian actor in the film, is also good as the villainous Stromboli. But the film doesn't have enough magic to carry itself off, lacking the charm and wonder of the animated film and making other crucial blunders as well.

The film heavily borrows from Disney's animated classic (shown above) but the effects often reside in the uncanny valley between realism and CG.

The film heavily borrows from Disney's animated classic (shown above) but the effects often reside in the uncanny valley between realism and CG.

Fun Facts

  • Among the countless cuckoo clocks in Geppetto's store are numerous references to other Disney films including Toy Story, Sleeping Beauty, The Sword In The Stone, The Lion King and Dumbo. Zemeckis also sneaks in a clock featuring Jessica and Roger Rabbit from his earlier film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
  • As this film opens, Gordon-Levitt (as Jiminy Cricket) sings some of the song 'When You Wish Upon A Star' which was the theme for the original animated Pinocchio. The film also pays tribute at the end when the story book seen closing matches that seen at the beginning of the earlier film opening up.
  • This was the second of three Pinocchio films released in 2022. The first was Pinocchio: A True Story, released straight-to-DVD in the US in March and was a Russian production which, perhaps understandably, wasn't that popular with audiences or critics. Disney released their version straight to their streaming service while the third film, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, is being distributed by Netflix - meaning none of these films received a traditional theatrical release.

What's not to like?

Despite the obvious effort to stack the film's visuals with detail, there are moments that shouldn't have slipped through. While Figaro the cat is well presented, the same cannot be said for the fish Cleo which is never convincing at any point, looking only like a rejected character from Finding Nemo. The same can be said for the mighty Monstro, a vast sea monster that brings about some shocking lapses in CG - despite crashing over the waves in his small boat, Hanks never looks wet at any moment. For a film that hangs so much of its importance on its visuals, it's a shame that those visuals often let it down.

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Despite having much of the screen time, both Ainsworth and Gordon-Levitt are disappointing in their voice roles. Ainsworth deploys an odd accent that rarely changes tone or intonation and as Jiminy, Gordon-Levitt has little of the warmth or charm Cliff Edwards brought to the role in 1940. The film's new songs don't make as much of an impact as those that graced the animated film although Evans gives his song everything, turning it into a Broadway-style number. And that's the film's biggest problem - it's little more than an updating of a classic film that, in truth, never needed updating. There's no reason for the film to exist because it doesn't do anything to improve the animated version. Ironically, it feels disingenuous because Disney is nowadays less of a studio of magic and more an industry titan through its endless purchasing of intellectual property and cynical production of sequels and remakes. On their day, we know Disney can do better than this.

The fact that the film has received little promotion by Disney or its cast, coupled with the fact that it's been released onto their streaming service instead of a wide theatrical release, suggests that they knew this film was below par. Kids might accept the film as a twisted morality tale (and not the one Collodi wrote originally either as the film makes some unacceptable changes to the story) but older viewers won't be fooled by this. It feels like it was made quickly and cheaply, even though it wasn't (the budget is estimated at an eye-watering $150 million), and simply doesn't work in this way.

America's favourite Tom Hanks is unable to rescue this mess which is little more than polished visuals and insincerity.

America's favourite Tom Hanks is unable to rescue this mess which is little more than polished visuals and insincerity.

Should I watch it?

Only those unfamiliar with the original would benefit from seeing this version of the tale, which at least has some occasionally pretty visual effects and a talented cast and crew behind it. But it never convinces us that it's a real film, feeling as artificial as its central character and we never care about it enough. Even fans of the animated version won't enjoy this half-hearted tribute and it's hard to know who exactly this film was made for. One almost suspects that it was rushed out in this state to simply undermine the forthcoming Pinocchio film from Guillermo del Toro.

Great For: younger viewers, encouraging people to watch the 1940 version, merchandising opportunities

Not So Great For: fans of the earlier film, encouraging people to sign up for Disney's streaming service, Guillermo del Toro, Disney's accountants

What else should I watch?

The story of Pinocchio has been told numerous times in films and on TV including some truly bizarre reimaginings such as Pinocchio In Outer Space and Pinocchio 3000, essentially a CG remake of Steven Spielberg's version A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Italian star Roberto Bengini has been in two versions by himself, one as Pinocchio in 2002 and later in 2019 as Geppetto. But the only version most people will be familiar with is the version they should probably stick to - Disney's 1940 animated version which bewitches you with its animation, its memorable songs and the sheer heart the film has.

Since 2015, Disney has been systemically remaking some of its most popular animated films as 'live-action' versions - they had done this before, most notably with 1996's 101 Dalmatians with an electrifying Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil but it was only after 2015's Cinderella that this strategy became apparent. After some initial success for the likes of The Jungle Book and Beauty And The Beast, it appears that critics are becoming less enamoured with these projects although audiences still appear to enjoy them. Coming up over the next few years are 'live-action' remakes of The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan and even Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs so it doesn't look like there are dropping this strategy anytime soon. Here's hoping they quickly rediscover how to tell original stories again...

Main Cast

ActorRole

Tom Hanks

Geppetto

Benjamin E. Ainsworth

Pinocchio (voice)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Jiminy Cricket (voice)

Cynthia Erivo

The Blue Fairy

Giuseppe Battiston

Stromboli

Lorraine Bracco

Sofia (voice)

Keegan-Michael Key

Honest John (voice)

Luke Evans

The Coachman

Kyanne Lamaya

Fabiana

Technical Info

*based on 'The Adventures Of Pincchio' by Carlo Collodi

DirectorRobert Zemeckis

Screenplay

Robert Zemeckis & Chris Weitz*

Running Time

105 minutes

Release Date (UK)

8th September, 2022

Rating

PG

Genre

Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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