A fun and joyful rendition, Pinocchio earns a solid recommendation from SLUG, and you might even find yourself watching it more than once.

Film Review: Pinocchio

Film Reviews

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Depth of Field Studios/Image Movers
Streaming on Disney+ 09.08

The rather lucrative and controversial spurt of Disney live-action and CGI remakes has ranged from one or two genuinely great films, such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book, to flashy, uninspired spectacles like Beauty & The Beast or Aladdin that felt more like gimmick TV specials than actual movies. The latest product from the House of Mouse, a retelling of Pinocchio from Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis, falls somewhere in between. 

Pinocchio is of course the tale of a woodcarver, Geppetto (Tom Hanks) who dreams of having a son. In this particular version, Geppetto did in fact have a son once upon a time, and it was the happiest time in his life. The gentle old man builds a wooden puppet made of pine, which he names Pinocchio and it brings back a flood of fond memories. While Geppetto is sleeping, he is visited by the magical Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo, Harriet), who brings the puppet to life and appoints a cricket named Jiminy (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to keep him on track, serving as Pinocchio’s conscience. More than anything, Pinocchio wants to be a real boy, just like the one that his “father” loved so much, and he does everything he can to try to be one, starting out by going to school. Pinocchio and Jiminy are quickly swept up in a series of misadventures, beginning a journey that teaches them about the nature of life and what it truly means to be human.

The original 1940 Pinocchio is a very tough act to follow, considered by many to be the best of Walt Disney’s golden age of animated films. Zemeckis and co-screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) knew that they were walking in the footsteps of greatness, and their approach tries to balance a reverence for this with a tongue-in-cheek, at times an anachronistic sense of humor and some new additions, including characters and songs that are all new to this version. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and the feeling that, just like Geppetto’s puppet, this Pinocchio is merely a manufactured attempt to recapture the joy of the one that lived long ago is so palpable that the metaphor seems intentional, which actually goes a long way toward making the movie play. 

The film moves along swiftly—perhaps too swiftly at times, favoring action over character development—and is quite entertaining. Zemeckis knows how to create an animated thrill ride as well as anyone and has thankfully learned that stylized characters play better than overly human-looking, dead-eyed automatons from the uncanny valley—though Pinocchio certainly recalls The Polar Express in terms of its pacing, adventurous spirit and sense of wonder.

Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who may be known to Disney+ audiences for his charming performance as William in Flora & Ulysses, nails the voice and the personality of Pinocchio and makes him easy to love, and while Hanks isn’t going to be winning any new Oscars for this one, he makes a great Geppetto. Gordon-Levitt is a lot of fun as Jiminy, though part of me would have preferred that he was concentrating a little less on imitating Cliff Edward’s classic character voice and just doing his own thing.

Keegan-Michael Key, who seems to come out with a couple of hundred movies a year—with sometimes as many as three of them actually being good—shines in his brief appearance as Honest John, the fox, and Luke Evans is unrecognizable and terrific as the coachman who brings boys to Pleasure Island. Perhaps the most interesting performance comes from Kyanne Lamaya (The Dumping Ground) as a puppeteer named Fabiana, who uses her marionette, Sabina, to connect with Pinocchio and befriend him in his time of need, though the character could have been fleshed out a bit more. The very best—and likely to be one of the most debated—aspects of the film is a bold new take on the ending, which will delight some and anger others, especially reactionaries apt to assign too literal a meaning to what the filmmakers are trying to say in order to make sure they can get the most out of decrying it for its woke agenda and running around the farm telling us all that the sky is falling. While the ending does come a bit too abruptly, it’s a clever, sensitive spin on the material that in and of itself justifies the existence of this version.

All in all, this Pinocchio is not to be confused with classic moviemaking, and yet there’s enough fun and joyfulness here to earn a solid recommendation, especially as a Disney+ streaming event rather than a theatrical one. As a lifelong fan of Zemeckis, I got such a charge out of seeing the inventive filmmaker having so much with material that I found it far too enjoyable to go too hard on Pinocchio, and unless you’re of the belief that these remakes irrevocably sully the originals, retroactively destroy our childhood and threaten the very fabric of the space-time continuum, you should find enough to enjoy to make Pinocchio feel like a worthwhile use of an hour and 45 minutes of your time. You might even find yourself watching it more than once. –Patrick Gibbs

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