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Pinocchio is a Stringless Remake

Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) in Disney's live-action PINOCCHIO, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Pinocchio screening provided by Disney

Pinocchio is untethered and out of place when it needed to be audacious and assured”

Whether you’re a devout fan of the 1940 classic or a newcomer to the pine built boy, the character of Pinocchio is synonymous with Disney’s golden age of 2D animation. The original film opened audiences eyes to the wonders of what was possible on the silver screen, and its Academy Award winning soundtrack was comprised of the now iconic song ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ — the lead in to almost every Disney animation since. It feels rather disheartening to say that the same level of imaginative excellence found in that classic is absent from imaginative icon, Robert Zemeckis’ rendition of Pinocchio (2022).

It might be the fact that by trying to recapture the wonders of the original animation through the glory of a live action remake, Zemeckis and co have reached for the stars, but have found a sanding machine instead. This beat-for-beat remake feels sluggish and forced in its appeal as it is visually sanded before being coated in the beauty of Disney’s modern live action look, but is devoid of the charm and awe that came with the simplicity of one of its pioneering works.

Perhaps that’s because this Pinocchio is more concerned with keeping up appearances — especially with its countless visual (clocks resembling modern Disney IP) and verbal (“Influencers”, “Chris Pine”) references to modern pop culture that are at once jarring and unnecessary for a remake with more to lose than gain.

Even the warmth of Tom Hanks is limited by his lack of screen time. The actor’s performance and presence as woodcutter Gepetto is in the vein of his Mr Rogers and Woody, but just as you’re cosying up to him, he vanishes for 90% of the movie, only returning to wrap things up. Understandably though, this is a movie about the titular character, and for what it’s worth Zemeckis mines the heck out of the boyishness of Pinocchio. But given most of the “live action” stuff isn’t actually live action, it feels like all Zemeckis’ film is, is a facelift of the original.

(L-R): Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Tom Hanks as Geppetto, and Figaro in Disney's live-action PINOCCHIO, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

(L-R): Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Tom Hanks as Geppetto, and Figaro in Disney’s live-action PINOCCHIO, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When Tim Burton’s Dumbo (2019) was announced, there was a hesitancy to get one’s hopes up given the ambiguity around how much creative control a director of his stature and vision would have. Sure enough, Dumbo wasn’t a success even with the obvious tussle in control between Burton and Disney (with Danny Elfman’s score being the saving grace). Pinocchio is without that obvious tussle, with Zemeckis evidently settling for a cookie cutter recount rather than the excitement he was once able to spur into his films like the early Back to the Future series and more modern, The Polar Express (2004).

There are moments of visual excellence in the film, especially towards the third act with Pleasure Island and Monstro (a big whale looking beast), but beyond that, the narrative is lacking in gusto and the messaging often found in these films doesn’t land in the way the original film’s messaging did. For a film without a core villain (with the true enemy being temptation), there is a reliance on taking something away from the film’s overtones.

Disney’s latest D23 Expo announced numerous other live action remakes and their anticipated release dates including The Little Mermaid, Snow White, and a more intriguing title in Mufasa: The Lion King — namely due to Barry Jenkins’ role as director. It’s obvious this remake engine is chugging away with no respite, and Pinocchio is one further stop that’s now in the rear view mirror — at least until Guillermo del Toro’s crack at the story circles around later this year. Much like Pinocchio’s joyous singing of “I’ve got no strings”, Zemeckis’ Pinocchio is untethered and out of place; in that sense, maybe having strings isn’t the worst idea in the world?

Pinocchio is now streaming exclusively on Disney+

Contributors

Arnel Duracak

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