Okay, everyone. Let’s get the rant over with: In recent years, Disney has taken one beloved title after another, blown off the dust, and dry-humped each one until more money fell out. The new Aladdin was an ungainly farce. The Lion King—which, by my math, cost $33,000 per second–shamelessly xeroxed the original, right down to the camera angles. By default, Dumbo takes the blue ribbon at this ugly pig contest, by virtue of being faintly watchable.
Turns out, Disney was saving up their biggest blasphemy, in this moment when we needed it least. For this latest savagery, the Mouse House dares to tinker with a face on its own Mount Rushmore: Pinocchio. That’s right–Walt Disney’s landmark second feature, which became an iconic masterpiece for animated films, Disney mythology, and pop culture in general. Hell, “When You Wish Upon a Star” plays over the damn Disney logo. We’ve borne witness to the march of relentless greed, but this should’ve been the uncrossable line. “This far. No further!“
And yet, here we are. Even worse, Disney chucks in director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) and Tom Hanks (Bosom Buddies) to give this thing the illusion of credibility. That means people will blissfully stream this flick, confident that the magic of Disney’s original (and Carlo Collodi’s book before it) will easily carry over. Sadly, the result is more hollow than a ripe watermelon, and even its best moments only draw attention to the better original.
And…rant over. If you’re familiar with either the Disney classic or the novel that inspired it, you’ll have no problem with this adaptation. Zemeckis cribs a lot of the basic design from that 1940 work, including the CGI renderings of Pinocchio (voice of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Jiminy Cricket (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Figaro the cat. Meanwhile, Geppetto (Hanks) lands somewhere between Samuel Clemens and Peter Falk’s grandfather in The Princess Bride.
Also, much like the recent defilements of The Lion King and Aladdin, this Pinocchio moves away from the music that made their predecessors so timeless. We get fits and starts of “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me)”, and a few forgettable new tunes, but the film works hard to convince you it’s not a musical. Cynthia Erivo plays the Blue Fairy, and she has a beautiful voice. It’s a shame they didn’t give her more screen time. If they’d let her belt a song to the rafters, I might’ve chucked another half-star onto this review.
The film commits another cinematic faux pas by including meta references to the Disney canon. This includes Geppetto’s wall of cuckoo clocks, which feature a who’s who of company icons, from Sleeping Beauty and Sheriff Woody, to Roger Rabbit–the last being a product of Zemeckis himself. Even worse, the synchronized chiming of the clocks is an obvious callback to another Zemeckis classic, Back to the Future. Much like Warner Bros. and their atrocious redux of Space Jam, Disney and Zemeckis go out of their way to remind you how deep their résumé is. It’s obnoxious and distracting, to put it politely.
For all the mean-mugging I did while watching it, this Pinocchio rehash isn’t a terrible movie. The special effects are crisp, and the cast gives it at least the ol’ junior college try. Also, Hanks has built up enough grandfatherly twinkle to be the face of Werther’s Originals. With that said, the filmmakers of the world should get together and agree on twenty-five or so movies that should be untouchable for remakes, reboots, or spinoffs. Pinocchio would’ve and should’ve been on that list. We have to act now, lest they’ll put Bambi in the crosshairs next.
105 min. PG. Disney+.