Still Not a Real Boy: Our Review of ‘Pinocchio (2022)’

Posted in Disney +, What's Streaming? by - September 08, 2022
Still Not a Real Boy: Our Review of ‘Pinocchio (2022)’

Disney and Robert Zemeckis deliver their live-action Pinocchio adaptation in time for “Disney +Day” on Sept 8th. This beats the Guillermo del Toro Netflix counterpart to the proverbial punch. A film with an A-List cast that easily could have seen a theatrical run, the move to go direct to Disney + seems aimed to be the first one to the finish line, regardless of the financial implications. It also undermines the impact of the impending Del Toro version, itself also sporting an all-star cast.

Geppetto (Tom Hanks) is basically a shut-in, barely leaving his beloved home workshop, but also never selling any of the clocks she creates to would-be customers. Geppetto carves a wooden boy, deemed Pinocchio (Benjamin Evans Ainsworth), to help alleviate his loneliness, and wishes that it may come to life. Unbeknownst to him, the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) has heard his wish and granted life to the puppet, and after providing him a conscience to help guide him in the form of a cricket named Jiminy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Pinocchio set outs to become a real boy.

I mean, we aren’t treading new waters here, Pinocchio has seen countless interpretations and reimaginings over the years. Be it the 2 other versions coming this year, yes there is another animated film also coming, or the late 90’s version starring Martin Landau and former Teen Beat cover star Johnathan Taylor Thomas. The animated Russian film with Pauley Shore voicing Pinocchio or the not 1 but 2 different versions by Italian actor/director Roberto Benigni, once with him as Pinocchio, the other where he plays Geppetto. The list goes on and on, even before Disney’s own animated classic from 1940. But unlike those other adaptations, Disney had already established the template of how they wanted their version of Pinocchio to be filmed, and Zemeckis follows it pretty damn close.

While some sequences from the original film are more fleshed out here for timing, other sequences see changes in character motivations or new characters added altogether to help expedite the story. The role of the Blue Fairy is greatly minimized, as is that of Keegan-Micheal Key’s Honest John, through the course of this retelling. In the case of Erivo’s Blue Fairy, it’s a shame because she’s absolutely radiant in the role however it facilitates the arrival of a new role of Fabianna played by Kyanne Lamaya. It’s a fantastic new addition and helps smooth out the formerly chunky Stromboli sequence nicely as Fabianna becomes one of the new film’s most engaging characters.

Honest John sees all his scenes condensed down to one sequence, which may be for the better also as while Keegan-Michael Key’s voice work is good, the character design for John can be a little off putting. Opting for the hyper-realistic style of the live-action Lion King, Honest John the fox just looks weird, and the interaction between him and other CG characters who aren’t as photo-realistic just never meshes very well.

The same could be said for Hanks here whose Geppetto is more ‘Hanks with a vaguely generic accent’ than he is clock and toy maker. While not awful, this is as close to ‘phoning it in’ as Hanks likely gets. The rest of the cast is fine, though Evans is basically treated as an afterthought, and Ainsworth is pretty spot on voice-wise for Pinocchio as it matches the original 1940 film almost note for note. Zemeckis does go much more sinister with the Paradise Island sequence though, as he leans more heavily into the supernatural aspects surrounding that part of the story, and younger children may not be prepared for how dark it gets.

But perhaps the biggest change comes in the form of an altered ending, which I’m told is much closer to the ending of the original story of Pinocchio.  Audiences used to the Disney version of the story may find the ending too abrupt or even too open-ended for their own liking, a risky decision from the filmmakers and Disney themselves.  But by the time we arrive at the ending, the audience should be used to the alterations in this story from the animated tale, and perhaps that will allow them to embrace the ending for what it is. In the end, though, Zemeckis’ take on the classic tale is less an essential or influential take on the material as much as it’s just there. Competently done, and downright amazing in parts, Zemeckis’ Pinocchio never really rises above being just more content to be consumed.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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