Review of the Movie “Pinocchio”: Robert Zemeckis’s Misguided Remake is Creepy in All the Wrong Ways!
Why do filmmakers adore “Pinocchio” so much? Yes, Carlo Collodi’s story from 1883 touches on eternal themes such as love, sorrow, and deceit. However, its purpose is to instruct youngsters by frightening them. From a contemporary standpoint, the concept is at best strange and at worst scary.
Then why are there still so many versions? There have been at least 65 adaptations, beginning with a silent film in 1911 and continuing until 2022, when there will be three more. Despite the fact that these variations are rarely successful, novice tellers are always confident that they have somehow solved the code.
Since 2015, a variety of writers and filmmakers (including, briefly, Sam Mendes) have been attached to this version. Robert Zemeckis seemed to be a good fit for a family-friendly blend of live-action and CGI animation, but his old-fashioned musical is incredibly creaky.
Zemeckis and co-writer Chris Weitz attempt to revitalize the notion, but updated moments undermine their attempts. When empathy is added to a story, it loses its soul. Incorporating simple modifications only emphasizes how dated the remainder of the material is.
One minute, we get jokey allusions to social media influencers or Chris Pine. A character may then exclaim “jeepers creepers” or “holy moley” or “Oh brother, it’s as if I’ve fallen into H-E-double hockey sticks!”
These exclamations are frequently uttered by our tour guide Jiminy Cricket, who defines himself as a “bug, boulevardier, and flaneur” and whose voice is provided by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the manner of a “Gone with the Wind” extra.
Jiminy has taken sanctuary in the cottage of Geppetto (Tom Hanks), a lonely clockmaker, and is compelled into service when Geppetto creates a puppet of himself after the loss of his kid.
When the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) observes Geppetto’s anguish, she arrives to transform Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) into a boy who is nearly real. To reach humanity, he must learn to be courageous, selfless, and truthful. Jiminy is responsible for keeping him on the correct road.
As even the youngest spectator already understands — have we mentioned the 65-plus adaptations? — this is easier said than done. Geppetto sends Pinocchio to school, but he is expelled by cruel students and a vicious principal. This puts him vulnerable to exploitation, beginning with the cunning fox (Keegan Michael-Key) who wants to sell Pinocchio to a traveling circus.
These characters do their absolute best to encourage Pinocchio to swap duty for truancy. However, one of the unexpected decisions Zemeckis makes is to depict a good-natured protagonist who continually rejects temptation. Pinocchio only desires to attend school, make Geppetto proud, and comply with the Blue Fairy’s directives.
Therefore, adults must constantly coerce him. He is an innocent child who is fooled, kidnapped, abused, and forced into labor trafficking. Even if he admits that he enjoys performing and his nose develops, we have no basis for judging him. At the very least, from a modern (or simply compassionate) standpoint, he is attempting to make the most of a horribly unpleasant situation.
Is this reading too much into a classic? Or does the classic demand a fresh interpretation? The main problem is that Zemeckis and Weitz want to make a family film with material that is, frankly, distasteful for modern families. Grim, psychosexual fairy tales such as “Pinocchio” can nonetheless be effective provided the narrators acknowledge the fundamental emotions and fears they provoke. But if they hedge with warmth or playfulness, the outcomes rapidly become sour.
There are a few moments, including Tom Hanks’ typically charming performance as an elderly Italian widower who putters around and wears a nightcap to bed. Luke Evans is amusingly over-the-top as the Cockney coachman who transports Pinocchio to Pleasure Island, while Kyanne Lamaya (“The Dumping Ground”) is endearing as the child puppeteer who befriends Pinocchio.
Some of the tunes were taken from the 1940 animated classic by Disney (back then, Walt understood the assignment perfectly). Others were written by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard and are more thoughtfully integrated into the movie. However, the original songs, such as “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee,” will elicit recognition from the majority of children and a sense of comforting nostalgia from the adults.
A few subtle allusions to other, superior films (particularly Zemeckis’ live-action-animation milestone “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”) do this film no favors; the effects aren’t seamless, and sometimes they’re downright clunky. However, the pictures are engaging enough to keep children watching.
In the end, however, we’re discussing a subject that has aged horribly, unless you’re willing to embrace its gloom. With a sincere, constantly diligent boy as its protagonist, the story loses all purpose.
There is no vicarious pleasure when he is harassed into skipping school against his will or when he is forced onto a hectic Pleasure Island that just increases his anxiety. (Pleasure Island in 1940 was awash in cigars and liquor; Pinocchio now shies away from root beer and pool.)
And without the fun, there’s really nothing for him to learn. What was once a lesson for children is now a hypocritical lecture. How can we relate to the film when every adult acts worse than Pinocchio? Even the good ones end up gaslighting him by making him out to be the problem. Not incidentally, this also includes the filmmakers (and Disney), who are all determined to dig into the vaults and move through with a project that simply does not work.
December will see the release of Guillermo del Toro’s next adaptation. The trailer is sad, a little unsettling, and slightly macabre. Which, one hopes, is the way things should be.