Pinocchio (2022) Review

The original Pinocchio may have been 82 years old. But it remains an enduring classic even after all these decades and not to mention, one of the best Disney animated features ever made. By contrast, Disney’s new live-action retelling of the aforementioned animation classic of the same name is sadly pale in comparison with the 1940 original.

Sure, it has legendary director Robert Zemeckis on the helm and it also features the much-awaited reunion of Zemeckis and Tom Hanks. It was their fourth collaboration, to be exact after they worked together in Forrest Gump (1994), Cast Away (2000) and The Polar Express (2004). But like most Zemeckis’ movies these days, his 2022 version of Pinocchio lacks the same whiz-bang moviemaking magic and human dynamics that defined some of his best works in the past (personally, his last most accomplished effort would be 2015’s The Walk).

The story — credited to Zemeckis and Chris Weitz — remains largely faithful with only a few tweaks here and there. We see a lonely woodcarver and toymaker Geppetto (Tom Hanks) build a wooden boy and one night, he made a wish on a falling star that Pinocchio would come to life. His wish is somehow granted when The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) brings Geppetto’s wooden puppet to life (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).

Geppetto (Tom Hanks) and Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) in "Pinocchio" (2022)

From there, The Blue Fairy tasked Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to become Pinocchio’s conscience. Well, if you have seen Pinocchio before in the past, you basically know what to expect here. This includes everything from Pinocchio’s first day heading to school to encountering a cunning fox named Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) and his sidekick, Gideon. Not to forget, the introduction of a vicious Italian puppeteer named Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston), who forced Pinocchio to perform onstage to help make money and right down to a ride to the deceptive Pleasure Island with The Coachman (Luke Evans) and finally, dealing with a giant monstrous whale.

The story includes some new characters, namely Pinocchio’s fellow circus performer Fabiana (Kyanee Lamaya) and her marionette named Sabina. The interaction between Pinocchio and Fabiana/Sabina showcases a few wonderful moments, albeit in a short-lived way. Zemeckis and Weitz’s plot also attempts to inject some contemporary humour into the otherwise old-fashioned story, with words like becoming an “influencer” and “Chris Pine” (get it?). Frankly, the modern jokes feel awkwardly misplaced and should have been excluded altogether. The emotional beats are equally missing as well, making the new Pinocchio feels disappointingly hollow.

The thing about remakes or reboots playing it safe by sticking close to the original often raises an all-important question: Why bother remaking it in the first place? The new Pinocchio reminds me of what Jon Favreau did in the live-action remake of The Lion King (2019). And that is, giving it a glossy coat of CGI but doesn’t do much on offering a unique or fresh perspective to the existing source material. It’s not that Zemeckis didn’t try at all, which can be evidently seen during the finale. But too bad such a creative choice only happens sporadically.

Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in "Pinocchio" (2022)

Zemeckis’ CGI/live-action hybrid has its few visually stunning moments but only to a certain extent, where some scenes between the CGI and the human characters look as if they do not share the same environment. These can be seen during the otherwise colourful Pleasure Island scene and the other one takes place in the sea, where Pinocchio and Geppetto encounter a giant whale.

Speaking of Geppetto, Tom Hanks does an okay but unspectacular job playing the father figure-like Geppetto. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (TV’s The Haunting of Bly Manor) fares better in his titular voice as Pinocchio while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is unrecognisable with his unusually pitchy voice but he certainly nails the part as Jiminy Cricket. Keegan-Michael Key and Luke Evans, in the meantime, provide decent support in their respectively sly voice performances as Honest John and The Coachman.

Earlier in the movie, do look out for some Disney-related Easter eggs. Overall, Zemeckis’ CGI/live-action version of Pinocchio is a missed opportunity with only a few worthwhile moments salvaging it from becoming a complete disaster. Now, I’m curious to see if Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio on Netflix this December can do better than this one.

Pinocchio is currently streaming on Disney+.

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