We cannot tell a lie – woodcarver Geppetto might have successfully turned a wooden figurine into a real boy, but director Robert Zemeckis fails to breath new life into this classic Disney tale.
The story of Pinocchio has been seen many iterations over the last 142 years, since Carlo Collodi first published his fairy tale, but most would likely think of Disney’s 1940 animated classic when the wooden puppet is mentioned. Man builds wooden boy, boy meets fairy and wishes to be real. Now, woodcarver Geppetto and his wooden puppet are receiving the live-action treatment following the likes of The Jungle Book (2016), The Lion King (2019), and Aladdin (2019) in Robert Zemeckis’ latest film, Pinocchio.
Pinocchio starts off the same way as the classic Disney fable, with Geppetto (Tom Hanks) making the wooden puppet in his little shop against the narration of Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The first third of the film is quite a close adaptation of its animated counterpart, with Geppetto’s numerous clocks and The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) bringing Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) to life, but that’s as faithful as it gets.
The 2022 movie has made several changes to the story – both big and small – which could be a dealbreaker for fans of the beloved tale. It feels like Zemeckis cherry-picked the parts that he deems necessary or unnecessary from the 1940 classic, and then included little bits and jokes for a more modern reskin, including a Chris Pine reference. Jiminy also has an annoying little nickname he’s assigned to the wooden boy that takes a while to get to, and Pinocchio’s first lie is no longer the same here.
Quite frankly, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to these small changes, but the bigger ones are more difficult to ignore. The final act of the film is nothing like Disney’s classic and what’s even worse is that the narrator tries to unsuccessfully justify the change. We also found it curious that while some of the jokes have been modernised, the rest of the movie and its setting still feels old-timey. It creates a distinct disconnect for viewers and the old-Italy aesthetic doesn’t gel very well with the new 21st-century jokes and references.
That said, the main gist of the story is still intact. After being brought to life by the Blue Fairy, Pinocchio sets on a journey to be a real boy so that he can make his father happy and proud. The story’s main message and moral lessons are still the same: be brave and truthful, listen to your conscience, obey adults, and that it’s never too late to do the right thing, no matter how many mistakes you’ve committed.
Thankfully, a number of important original characters are kept in the live-action too. Aside from Jiminy, Pinocchio, the Blue Fairy, and Geppetto, characters like Honest, The Coachman, Stromboli, and Lampwick (renamed to Candlewick) were also brought to life by Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Evans, Giuseppe Battiston, and Lewin Llyod respectively. Gideon, Cleo, and Figaro also made it to the screen though they have no speaking roles.
The movie also adds newcomers Kyanne Lamaya as a disabled aspiring ballerina named Fabiana, and Lorraine Bracco as Sofia, a bird that helps Jiminy and Pinocchio in different parts of the film. Fabiana is a completely new character to the story, while Sofia, although unnamed, has appeared in various iterations of the original tale. Fabiana didn’t play such a pivotal role in Pinocchio’s journey, but the puppet she played with did help teach Pinocchio the lesson of trust. In contrast, Bracco’s Sofia is in on all the action, but doesn’t have many lines, with the only memorable line of hers likely being “Mmm garbage”.
It is hard to pick a favourite in the cast given the obvious star power, but Hanks as Geppetto is one of the stronger performances. Fresh off his Elvis role, and reunited with Zemeckis, Hanks plays a concerned father in the movie and his characterisation of a grief-stricken man is so heart-wrenching. Interestingly, Hank’s Geppetto has a (slightly botched) Italian accent whereas the original character had an Austrian one.
Key and Erivo’s musical performances are entertaining and catchy. The latter’s singing of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ is enchanting and we can’t wait to see her in the upcoming Wicked musical. Until then, Erivo as the Blue Fairy is absolutely magical and ethereal. If you never knew that comedian Key could sing, the ‘Hi Diddly Dee’ set is where you’ll be singing along with him.
Evans as the Coachman is less creepy than we remembered in the cartoon, but his musical number is still entertaining to watch. The show of prowess didn’t quite surprise us, especially after seeing him play Gaston in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and The Beast.
Last but not least, the boy himself.Benjamin New talent Evan Ainsworth brings so much life to Pinocchio, although most of his work went into voice acting since the character is recreated in CGI. Ainsworth is eager and expressive as the puppet – there is absolutely nothing wooden about him here – and if he seems familiar, then chances are you’ve seen Ainsworth in The Haunting of Bly Manor and most recently, in The Sandman.
Speaking of CGI, Pinocchio does have some CGI flaws. While Pinocchio is beautifully animated and rendered, Cleo and Figaro – Geppetto’s little pets – look horrible and out of place. Each time Hanks’ Geppetto pets Figaro, the poor animation quality is further emphasised. It’s no complaint or major con, though, as the film’s best use of effects is mainly on Pinocchio, Jiminy, scenes on Pleasure Island and Monstro, the gigantic sperm whale that swallows our protagonist towards the end of the film.
In all, Pinocchio is an enjoyable watch that retells the iconic story of the wooden puppet whose only desire is to be a real boy. The adaptation is a mishmash of the Disney tale as well as the original tale by Collodi that while may divide some hardcore Disney fans, especially with regards to a significant scene in the third act, shouldn’t send the film into damnation. If anything, it adds a new layer to the characters and helps us connect to them even more.
Pinocchio comes to life on 8 September on Disney+.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Pinocchio is not exactly a real boy in Disney’s latest adaptation, Pinocchio, but definitely brings a lot of real heart, grief and most importantly, a musical time to the screen.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10