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Review of Pinocchio

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Plot: Academy Award winner Robert Zemeckis directs this live-action, CGI retelling of the beloved story about a wooden puppet who embarks on an exciting adventure to become a real boy. Tom Hanks stars as Geppetto, a woodcarver who builds and treats Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) like his own son.

review: Remakes of Disney’s classic animated masterpieces come in two flavors: a reimagining that plays on the conventions of the original story in a new way, like Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland or they are almost rhythmic reconstructions of the original with photorealistic animation or live actors, as in The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. Sometimes these new movies are startlingly unlike the movies that inspired them, e.g Cruella or even Jon Favreau the jungle book while retaining the heart and soul that earned the originals the title “masterpiece.” Disney’s latest remake Pinocchio and comes with the remarkable talent of star Tom Hanks reunited with his Forrest Gump and Throw away directed by Robert Zemeckis. Unfortunately, this one is new Pinocchio it’s an empty and superficial retelling of the tale of a wooden boy brought to life that can’t overcome the limitations of the 1940 original’s homage.

Pinocchio it’s an amazing movie from the start. First, we are introduced to Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who delivers an animated film-like narration of how he met Pinocchio. After an awkward interaction between the modern-day Jiminy and the historical version, we move on to Geppetto’s shop. From the moment we first meet Geppetto (Tom Hanks) working in his shop, Robert Zemeckis’ film takes on the feel of a cartoon come to life. Hanks wears a wig and mustache that mimics the animated version of Geppetto as he walks around his shop and delivers his lines with a faint croon, which avoids the need for Hanks to sing at full volume. Hanks also maintains an accent similar to the one he used with Baz Luhrmann Elvis which doesn’t sound very Italian and doesn’t sound very convincing. Hanks, ever the actor who gives his all, seems to sleepwalk his way through this performance as he has to interact with the fully animated cat Figaro, the goldfish Cleo and Pinocchio myself

The opening scenes gave me hope that the film would have a different feel than the 1940 version, and I appreciated the various Disney Easter eggs placed throughout Geppetto’s shop. Despite Cynthia Erive’s wonderful performance as the Blue Fairy, once Pinocchio comes to life, the film begins to look and feel a lot like a complete remake of the original. There are a few new characters when Pinocchio comes out, but then we meet Honest John and Gideon. While Keegan-Michael Key’s instantly recognizable voice is perfect for the sly anthropomorphic fox, seeing the CGI-only characters on screen makes the story less realistic and more like a Zemeckis film Polar Express and Beowulf. When human actors are on screen alone, the film feels a little fresher, but when they share the screen with CGI performers or animated pieces, it’s all we see. Pinocchio loses a lot of its charm.

The film has some highlights, including Luke Evans as the owner of Pleasure Island, which remains as nightmare-filled a live-action sequence as it is in animated form. Giuseppe Battista steals the film as the evil puppeteer Stromboli, while the famous Keith Monster is even more exciting than he was eighty years ago in an updated form. But despite moments here and there, Pinocchio never seems like a sensitive character. Because of how recognizable the wooden boy’s character design has become, Robert Zemeckis didn’t shy away from making him look and move exactly like he did in the original film. The design of everyone else has received a slight upgrade, but thanks to the preservation of the unrealistic and cartoonish appearance of the main character, this film will never feel outside the shadow of the first version.

I felt bad for Tom Hanks after watching it Pinocchio. Three of the beloved actor’s last five films premiered on streaming platforms instead of the big screen, and both Hort and Finch show a much better performance from a reliably excellent actor. Even Finch, which also featured Hanks opposite a CGI co-star, felt more authentic and emotionally resonant than that empty film. Robert Zemeckis is also impressive here behind the camera in every way. Zemeckis’ 2020 remake of The Witches at least reinterpreted Roald Dahl’s novel enough to feel like a departure from Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 version. Pinocchio harkens back to Zemeckis’ last Disney project, 2009’s A Christmas Carol, which also sacrificed performance and story quality for the quality of the technological advances on screen. Animation in Pinocchio softer than Zemeckis’ earlier animated films, but still reeks of artificiality. With a story that relies so heavily on heart and emotion Pinocchiothe last thing your film should feel like wood.

From a screenplay by Chris Weitz (Outcast alone, Cinderella) and Zemeckis, Pinocchio looks both well done and very artificial at the same time. I’m not shocked that this movie is premiering on Disney+ and not in theaters since the story doesn’t have the same scale as some of the other Disney classics, e.g. Aladdin or Mulan which benefits from a large screen format. While there are a few changes to the overall story and some modern jokes that made me laugh a bit, there’s a lot that’s new Pinocchio just feels off. When I saw the trailer for Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming take on the Italian fairy tale, this version at least felt like a genuine attempt to tell the story in a way we hadn’t seen before. From the classic If You Wish Upon A Star to the character designs, Robert Zemeckis never fills this movie with anything authentic or original.

Pinocchio premieres on September 8 on Disney+.

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