It’s trash. Let’s just get that out of the way. There hasn’t been a Disney live action remake that has really worked for me, so I’ve pretty much sworn them off. Well, “sworn them off” is a bit strong. I just never make time for them. There’s always something more interesting to watch. I haven’t ruled out a binge someday if I’m in a particularly masochistic mood, but for now they’re relegated to “inessential”… unless they star Tom Hanks. Then I have no choice.
And just to be clear, I don’t necessarily object to the live action remakes of the Walt Disney Animation Studio out fealty to the originals the way that some do. (Side note: Calling them “live action” remakes has often felt like a misnomer given the prevalence of shitty CGI). I do think Disney’s best animated films are masterpieces, but Hollywood is not a sacrosanct industry. They are welcome to chop up and reboot and remake to their hearts’ (and stakeholders’) content. As long as I can still watch the original, I won’t be angry, just bored.
But anyways, I watched the new Pinocchio, and it is indeed trash. And it’s the kind of trash that gets less interesting and more broken the longer you stare at it. I found the first fifteen minutes borderline intriguing. The next half hour is vaguely watchable but unpleasant. The remaining hour absolutely flounders. It’s a descent to Hell.
Disney recruited Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks, presumably by driving Brinks trucks with the GDP of a small nation to their Beverly Hills mansions, to helm the remake of the film most commonly cited as the most beautiful in the history of American hand-drawn animation. I rewatched the 1940 classic in preparation for this remake, and there are no words to adequately capture the detail and beauty of that film. There are also no words to describe how ugly the 2022 film is by comparison, but if those words did exist they would be swear words. (Speaking of swear words, one of the most annoying runners in the remake is the ghastly Jiminy Cricket going out of his way to almost swear. “H-E-double hockey sticks” type stuff.)
Zemeckis also gets a screenwriting credit, and I’m not sure if his direction or his writing is more of a film-ruining piece of butchery. You can almost feel him losing interest in the screenplay as he works through it. The opening five minutes hint at a more nuanced and human Gepetto as a cornerstone of the film. Throughout the first two acts, Zemeckis tries really hard to smooth out some of the choppy storytelling decisions of the original; for example, Honest John and Gideon don’t coincidentally bump into Pinocchio a second time after he escapes Stromboli. By the last half hour, we’re strictly in “stuff happening because it needs to” mode, with corners cut every scene. And the last few minutes don’t even get that far; the actual “stuff happening” is hand-waved. Where there should be a proper conclusion after Pinocchio and Gepetto survive Monstro, Jiminy Cricket turns to the camera and says “maybe Pinocchio became a real boy, and maybe he didn’t, but Gepetto loved him either way.” Seriously. What a load of crock.
(The single worst writing sin of the film is a gag where Honest John ponders what a wooden boy’s name might be, and the punchline is when he suggests “Chris Pine” shortly after calling Pinocchio an “influencer.” I wish I was making that up.)
Visually, the closest Zemeckis gets to anything that’s even a little bit interesting is when he tries to channel his hacky mo-cap energy and construct a couple of elaborate thrill ride segments with whooshing cameras. In fact, a few of these sequences feel like they were designed for a 3D theater. But, to my knowledge, this is a Disney+-only release, so I’m not sure why they’re here. Maybe Zemeckis initially thought it was going to be a theater release including 3D and just never got around to making new storyboards. That would be in line with the laziness on display here.
The music is downright horrible. The songs you remember are butchered, but that’s expected. (There’s a horrible cry-sung reprise of “When You Wish Upon a Star” that emulates the ending of Tangled, life-restoring magic tears and all.) Less expected are the disposable new songs that are terribly bland. There’s a new Pleasure Island number that sounds like a Greatest Showman reject.
I feel like I haven’t emphasized enough just how ugly this movie is. The character designs are nightmares. Is CGI getting worse? Pinocchio is a putty abomination (albeit well-textured), but Jiminy Cricket is the real crime against retinas. Zemeckis has kept the approximate humanoid shape of the 1940 character design, but added more bug details, and it just looks so bad. Some of the other characters fare slightly better, and Monstro is moderately intimidating. But he’s really the only thing that even approaches a fear factor in this film. The unnerving edges have been sanded off. The donkey transformation in particular is neutered to nothing. (Also there are smoke demon monsters on Pleasure Island for no established reason.)
There are exactly two things in the new Pinocchio that are even remotely interesting. Maybe more like one and a half things. Let’s start with the smaller of those: I really enjoyed Keegan-Michael Key’s vocal performance as Honest John (credited just as “The Fox”). He’s funny and hammy in a way that feels like it actually belongs in a cartoon. The reason I only mark it as half of a good thing is that Honest John’s role has been drastically reduced from the original, approximately halved, so it feels like a missed opportunity.
And now we get to the one thing about the movie that I actually enjoyed, and that is Tom Hanks’ performance as Geppetto. It feels like Hanks is the only one who showed up to work on this production. He’s imagined and inhabited Geppetto as this wounded but hopeful soul who has disconnected from the outside world and lost a screw or two, but never given up hope. (A dark backstory and obsession with clocks is hinted at but never dwelled upon.) His spark connecting with Pinocchio is infectious. I’m not sure exactly what the voice he’s using is supposed to be; he sounds like he wants a spicy meat-ah-ball but forgot to take dementia meds. But he still fills the screen with some heart, and it’s literally the only thing here that has heart. He deserved better; the movie deserved less than what he gave it. This isn’t the worst movie of his career only because Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close still exists. And even then, I’m going to need to think about it.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film