At this point, Disney has given the lifeless, star-studded CGI-remake treatment to several of its most popular animated titles, to mostly great financial success. 2016’s The Jungle Book, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s The Lion King all did boffo box office and met critical acclaim. Sure, people mostly hated 2019’s Dumbo, 2019’s Aladdin and 2020’s Mulan, but it hasn’t stopped the conglomerate from continuing these projects. I wonder where Disney’s live-action version of Pinocchio, debuting today on Disney+, would’ve fallen for general audiences had it been given a wide release. We’ll never know, of course, but chances are it will disappear into the ether much like 2019’s Lady and the Tramp, which nobody watched because it also was consigned to Disney+.
I don’t pretend to understand the economics of a service like Disney+. The model seems to be about funneling endless amounts of cash into content that incentivizes new and continuing subscriptions. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, particularly when most of the reason parents boot up the service these days is to watch Bluey, a program funded by the Australian government, or whatever Marvel is releasing on a weekly basis. I love having everything at my fingertips, but I can’t fathom who would pay $10 to watch something like Pinocchio over a weekend. That mystery bothered me for most of the film’s interminable and pointless running time.
Most everyone knows the story well enough: Geppetto (Tom Hanks, continuing his wacky accent phase) is an Italian clockmaker. He builds a marionette and, one night, wishes his puppet could become a real boy. The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) makes that wish come true and promises Pinocchio that being brave and kind will grant him the body of a real boy. Soon, Pinocchio (Ben Ainsworth) finds himself on a series of adventures.
Like most of these remakes, Pinnochio expands a short animated feature without actually adding anything to the story. Every beat is religiously hit but padded with extraneous CGI spectacle. Director Robert Zemeckis has spent a lot of his later career playing with CGI, and returns seem to have fully diminished here (if they hadn’t before). Many critics give Marvel guff for the sometimes questionable visuals they push into finished products, but at least most of that studio’s content is anchored by fun characters or entertaining stories. Pinnochio looks less than half-finished and often outright bad. All told, it’s a bunch of nothing added to fill out a runtime, and it isn’t even interesting or pretty nothing.
Hanks is a special level of bad as Geppetto, mumbling through the first iconic song and constantly slipping out of his Italian-ish accent. For whatever reason, the script changes the character’s backstory and introduces the idea of a dead son inspiring the puppet son, an addition that creates unintentional darkness without adding anything to the story. At least his wild, over-the-top turn as Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis was thematically appropriate. Here, it seems Hanks is just doing a favor for an old friend — this being his fourth collaboration with Zemeckis so far — in a role he knows won’t be seen by a wide audience anyway. On the flip side, Erivo is great as the Blue Fairy. She doesn’t get much to do, but her rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a highlight.
Anyway, this whole thing feels pointless and uninspired. I don’t know why I bothered watching it. At least Zemeckis got paid to make it; the same can’t be said for me watching it.