2022 | PG | starring Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo, Luke Evans and the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Lorraine Brocco, Keegan-Michael Key | directed by Robert Zemeckis | 1h 45m |
Another Disney live-action remake, another opportunity to talk about why these movies don’t work. The latest in a long line of remakes of Pinocchio is the most in story and style like Disney’s original 1940 animated film. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even the design of Pinocchio himself is exactly the same.
Seeking to bring a child into his life, wood-carver Geppetto (Tom Hanks, camping it up) creates a wooden puppet that is brought to life by a fairy (Cynthia Erivo). On a quest to become a real boy, Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is assigned a guardian, Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), falls in with a bad crowd and goes on an adventure to find his conscience.
There is always something about these remakes that sticks out like sore thumb and makes it glaringly obvious why they work more in animation. The thing that sticks out about Robert Zemeckis’ hired-gun work in Disney’s Pinocchio is the pace. This movie runs an average length and when it ended I could have sworn it was over 2 hours. All of these movies are too long. If you watch Disney’s animated Pinocchio, Dumbo or The Little Mermaid you get a movie that as an adult feels like it’s moving at a rapid clip, but to a kid seems perfectly pace. They are calibrated, almost down to a science, for a child’s attention span and perception of time.
It feels like it takes forever to get to Pinocchio himself, having us endure Tom Hanks singing a song to set the stage. The film uses Jiminy Cricket to break the 4th wall and add a level of eye-rolley contemporary meta humor to it; though Gordon-Levitt’s voice is unrecognizably excellent. As the story follows Pinocchio (a flat, boring character in this version) it gets more immersed in the world of CGI characters until we get entire scenes of 4 computer generated characters standing on a set talking to each other. It’s bizarre. Like Jon Favreau’s The Lion King there are so many long stretches without human actors it begs the question what this movie is bringing to the table. At least Favreau’s ultra-realistic Lion King immersed us in photo-realistic nature with the goal of being a National Geographic special – I’m not sure what Zemeckis thought was going on here.
The Pleasure Island sequence where the kids run around breaking stuff – particularly clocks because Gepetto loves clocks – is bizarre. The whale finale where Pinocchio’s feet turn into motorized paddle wheels is bizarre. The sudden ending, that entirely sidesteps whether or not Pinocchio becomes a real boy or not, is bizarre. This movie ends like a Die Hard movie where John McClane walks away from a smoldering pile of wreckage while the credits roll instead of a movie designed around a fairy tale theme for children where you might want to see the resolution play out. Utterly bizarre.
It feels ironic and possibly unfair to call a movie where so much artistry and talent is on display in legions of animators who created it’s CG characters and worlds down to the most photo-realistic of details. But just as “crappy CGI”, the most thing on the internet from internet critics, doesn’t spoil a good movie, great animation doesn’t elevate a bad one. Pinocchio is a long, long way from the magic that Robert Zemeckis created with mixing live action and animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and even from the experimental motion capture Tom Hanks vehicle The Polar Express. It exists in a world where all of this is commonplace at the service of a movie that is lazily, rigidly following the beats of a film the came before it. Any changes, such as it’s abrupt ending and dreary original songs, are for the worst.
Back to the pace, that Pinocchio runs as slow as it does for as long as it does is a shocking admission. Disney, once a juggernaut of family entertainment, are not making movies for kids – they are for nostalgic adults. Built as commercial products for people who think they’re too old for cartoons but want something to show their kids that they know. It might just be the height of cynicism.