This Pinocchio has that Disney magic we crave, albeit a bit more hollowed than one would expect.
This review of the Disney+ film Pinocchio (2022) does not contain spoilers or any significant plot points.
We all knew it was coming. A new version of our favorite precocious marionette to be embraced by modern technology and a younger generation. So, who better to bring a new Pinocchio to the screen than the team of Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis, who somehow made the creepiest animated children’s film, The Polar Express, into a new modern holiday classic? I am relieved the latest version works, for the most part. However, the original’s wonderful themes never go as deep as Monstro’s belly, and the revised ending takes away an effective poignancy.
The story follows most of the same path as the original film. Jiminy Cricket (voiced by a genuine Joseph Gordon-Levitt) takes shelter in a local shop in a snowy Italian town. The owner is Geppetto (Tom Hanks), a renowned clockmaker so talented that he makes his wonderful creations but refuses to sell them to the public. (Make sure to keep an eye out for Easter eggs here, with several beloved Disney and Pixar characters popping out of his cuckoo clocks). He’s not talking to himself but to his makeshift family.
That consists of the most adorable, animated feline you’ve ever seen, Figaro. A small fish that likes to rise to the surface of her bowl to get a belly rub, Cleo. Of course, his absolute pride and joy is a hand-carved marionette, Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). As they settle for the night, Jiminy watches the older man go to bed, saying a prayer to the wishing star. What was it? For Pinocchio to become a real live boy, of course. Once he springs to life, the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) arrives. She sings the song we all know by heart and untangles our boy’s strings. She anoints Jiminy to be his conscience, and Geppetto wakes up to the surprise of his life.
Zemeckis, who co-wrote the script with Chris Weitz, has made a version of Pinocchio that is a magical grand adventure the family will ultimately enjoy, maybe even love. However, the original 1940 Disney classic is incomparable, not just because there is no substitute for classic hand-drawn animation and the wonder it provokes compared to the digital age (though the special effects here are spectacular). There is something clunky about how Zemeckis’s film is put together and transitions, particularly how and when the children are transferred to Pleasure Island. Believe me, after that scene, you’ll imagine this is a lot of what skid row looked like in its heyday, even if it does give off an enjoyable Roald Dahl quality.
Pinocchio suffers from underdeveloped villains. While I enjoyed Keegan-Michael Key’s Honest John, Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston) and The Coachman (Luke Evans) needed additional dark escapades to enhance Pinocchio’s journey. The latter character is lifted directly from the original Italian source material, Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. Enhancing this character would have deepened traditional themes of the human conditioning this classic is known for. Or even a metaphor for a child’s journey through social development as our hollowed friend learns what it’s like to be the kind of human he wants to be.
They changed the original film’s ending. I am okay with it, but it takes away that emotional impact the script sorely needed. I would love to say this change was made evident because of our modern times. The teaching of children to accept those who are different than us. Pinocchio’s journey was about what kind of human the young boy wanted to be. While different from the rest, the ending offers a modern component of acceptance of embracing our differences, and family is what you make it. However, the money-grubbing mouse has dollar signs in its eyes. (Hey, you must keep Minnie happy, no?). And I am fully convinced this was made for potential sequels on their streaming platform.
Scenes with monsters and glowing eyes may be scary for real little children, especially with Pinocchio debuting on Disney+ and not in theatres. However, while I may be hard on the film, Zemeckis locates the magical quality Disney is known for. This film will satisfy children and parents with delightful animation, snappy musical numbers, beautiful production design, and a finale that satisfies the source material’s adventure component.
Just not as much as it could have.
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