Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Written by Patrick Hao
Several months removed from Tom Hanks, in a questionable Dutch accent, shouting “Here comes Santa Claus” in “Elvis” Hanks is now shouting “My boy” in an even more questionable Italian accent. The movie in question is the Disney live-action remake of “Pinocchio,” which is ironic because, for a tale about becoming a real human boy, there is no sense of humanity in the film. In the slew of rote Disney live-action remakes of animated classics, it was inevitable that “Pinocchio” would eventually get the treatment. “When You Wish Upon a Star” is still the fanfare for the studio’s intro bumper. But, everything about “Pinocchio” seems to be ill-conceived by a robotic algorithm, from the intentions in its making to the eventual release onto Disney+.
The great Robert Zemeckis is at the helm for this remake, and at first glance that seems fitting for a director who is rooted in classical storytelling and has shown the ability to mesh technology with humanity. The opening sequence is a good example of Zemeckis’ ability. Gepetto (Tom Hanks) in his mechanical home, is making a wooden boy to resemble his son. For a moment in the film, there is a sense of true human emotions – melancholy. He speaks to his cat Figaro and his goldfish Cleo, as Jiminy Cricket watches on (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt).
Unfortunately, the film begins to falter once the wooden boy, Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), gains sentience. First off the sound mixing seems off as Ainsworth’s voice is weirdly hollow giving it a sense that his voice is coming from a far off distant place. Then there is his actual performance, whose high register undercuts all the naive sweetness that should come with the character. Instead, he sounds like an adult in an improv scene playing Pinocchio.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with this remake is just how incredibly dull the film is. What these live-action remakes seem to miss about the magic of animation is that realism was never the problem. I don’t know where the notion that filmgoers want their movies to be Thomas Kincaid paintings with realistic lighting and photorealistic animals came from. Just watching a few moments of the original film, a film unsuccessful due to high production costs from delays by the animators, it is striking how much the film deviates from the central story to let the viewer luxuriate in the animation. This film seems devoted to the garish brights and darks of this CGI world, undoubtedly made by great CGI artists who had to rush the film to completion.
The film is so ugly that all sense of magic is sucked out of it. And this comes from Zemekis who was great at world-building. The world feels barren of all life, a lot of it is because there is not much life on screen. Any time human characters are on screen from Hanks, Luke Evans as the Coachman, and Kyanne Lamaya as Fabiana, there is a bit of energy. Everything else feels rote and pointless.
“Pinocchio” is a depressing movie. It brings to light the utter contempt the most powerful movie studio has for its audience – one devoid of any humanity and creativity. Once again, the irony is almost too on the ever-growing nose given the subject matter of the film. Can’t wait for the live-action remake of “The Aristocats.”