The enduring problem with Disney’s continuing series of “live action” remakes of their popular animated catalog is a lack of imagination. Most of the films so far have been little more than faithful versions of the originals, offering viewers nostalgia for their childhood but few updates to reflect the world in which these films are now being made.
The latest victim of this thinking is Pinocchio, a remake of a film that came out over 80 years ago. Once again, we are introduced to the story by Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who wanders into the workshop of toymaker Geppetto (Tom Hanks), who is in the process of making a wooden puppet he names Pinocchio. A wish upon a star that Geppetto makes soon brings Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) to life, with help from the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo).
Soon, Geppetto is ill-advisedly sending Pinocchio off to school by himself, with Jiminy Cricket accompanying him after being appointed Pinocchio’s conscience by the Blue Fairy. Pinocchio gets into a series of troubles, first waylaid by Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) to become famous in a show put on by Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston), and then kidnapped and taken to a place called Pleasure Island, which offers anything but.
Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis (with help from co-writer Chris Weitz), the film never once gives off a sense of wonder or fun or magic. Instead, it’s a dutiful, beat-for-beat rehashing of a film that most viewers have already seen, right down to Honest John and his sidekick Gideon being a human-size talking fox and cat, respectively, despite no apparent story purpose for them being that way.
Those who haven’t seen the original may find some fear in the situations in which Pinocchio finds himself, but the lack of adequate setup in the storytelling makes it feel like Zemeckis is merely ticking boxes on what he’s expected to show. He offers nothing new of substance apart from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment showing that Geppetto is making Pinocchio in the image of his dead son. Like the rest of the film, however, that potential bit of emotional gravitas goes nowhere.
Zemeckis also seems to be to blame for the consistently over-the-top performances by everyone in the film. The voices affected by Ainsworth and Gordon-Levitt are grating right from the start, negating the potential cuteness of their characters. And there is just something off about Hanks’ performance; he only has limited screentime, and nearly every second is awkward bluster. After a similar performance in Elvis, Hanks needs to get back to some more relatable characters.
This remake of Pinocchio, like many of Disney’s live action remakes, offers no compelling reason for its existence (other than possible added revenue for the studio). Anyone who wants to relive memories of watching the original as a child should just revisit it; it’s a classic for a reason.
Pinocchio debuts on Disney+ on September 8.