Cert – Recommended ages 9+, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Director – Robert Zemeckis
With the guidance of his cricket conscience (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a brought-to-life wooden puppet (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) attempts to live a brave, truthful and unselfish live in order to become a real boy.
As we initially meet the Geppetto (Tom Hanks) of Disney’s live-action Pinocchio remake we see a figure much different to that of the somewhat excitable and jumpy cartoon version. He’s hard at work in his dimly-lit woodwork shop muttering a form of recitation as it’s revealed he’s working on a puppet. The air is that of a tired and weary old man. Despite the company of his cat, goldfish and wall plastered with clocks he’s unwilling to sell he’s lonely.
His character marks a difference to the more frantic dual-narration of a past and present Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), rushing through the streets of the local town trying to find shelter as the rain begins to pour. He’s undeniably an energetic figure with his rushed speech and general pacing bordering on encouraging audience participation. There’s a generally cartoonish nature to the CG character which boosts an overall lighter tone within the film. It’s one which avoids the darkness that a story like Pinocchio can, and in some versions has, hold. As the narrative pans out an Geppetto wishes upon a star that his wooden creation will become a wooden boy and the Blue Fairy (a very brief but rather enjoyable Cynthia Erivo – who herself appears to be having a nice time in her near-cameo role) brings the puppet to life the tone begins to enter that of pantomime.
There’s certainly not anything wrong with this as a whole, and there are certain element which play into a theatrical nature. Keegan-Michael Key as Honest John makes the most of his various choruses – the only real songs that don’t quite feel out of place in the mixture of cartoon and fantasy which the world of the film is made up of – and his ‘actor’s life’ strand certainly proves a highlight. He leads his segment well before we move on to the next chapter against the backdrop of a new stage – from the dark of the woods to the CG cartoon sequence of Pleasure Island. You can clearly see the segments throughout and the way in which they divide the film up, each a new test for Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).
As things travel along the familiar course of the Pinocchio story it becomes clear that this is perhaps aimed more at a younger audience than anyone else. There generally seems to be enough to keep other lightly amused for the nearly 2-hour run-time, but overall the pantomime-y feel caters more to a crowd perhaps less familiar with the story than anyone else – further shown in a line of fourth-wall-breaking dialogue from Jiminy Cricket where he claims he’s “dropped into H-E-double hockey sticks”. It comes across in the various performances, including Hanks whose Geppetto appears to change from scene to scene, the weary figure we first meet a distant one as the actor simply comes across as miscast. Collectively the tone provides reason as to why this may have been dropped onto Disney+ instead of given a cinematic release – there’s still plenty of cinematic shots dotted throughout with that Robert Zemeckis flair (co-written by the director and Chris Weitz.
While there are a couple of bumps and missteps along the way the main thing that prevents Pinocchio from properly finding its stride is the heaping of lightness in which much of the film is coated in. It’s not entirely a bad thing, and it’s still watchable, but as it steps into the theatrical it starts to lose some engagement every now and then from those more familiar with the story, or simply older viewers in general. It’s fine for what it does, watchable amongst the sugariness, but doesn’t quite seem to find its stride.
Disney and Robert Zemeckis’ reimagining of Pinocchio certainly leans towards the lighter side of things, eventually slipping into the realms of theatricality and pantomime. Perhaps better for younger viewers it’s fairly watchable but certainly weighted in sugariness.