Disney’s newest Pinocchio is a largely faithful adaptation with an impressive cast – but they’re let down by jarring visual effects.
As the live action adaptation of Disney’s Pinocchio is released on Disney+, it’s hard not to feel a bit sad that it’s going straight to the small screen. While in theory these adaptations may seem like a cash grab on the studio’s part, they’ve largely been enjoyable and faithful to the original animated films – as well as having immaculate and detailed production design. If precedent wasn’t enough to get Pinocchio into cinemas, you’d think the cast and crew should have been. With Back To The Future’s Robert Zemeckis directing, and Tom Hanks, Luke Evans and Cynthia Erivo among the cast, what’s not to like?
Unfortunately, this take on Pinocchio works better on paper than in practice.
With Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Jiminy Cricket narrating, the film gets off on the right foot. We’re introduced to Hanks’ Geppetto, his pets Figaro the cat and Cleo the goldfish, and of course the puppet the woodcarver has made for himself. Hanks plays Geppetto in a way that’s mostly endearing, it’s just a shame that his Italian accent is so over the top it enters the realm of caricature. We get a brief reprieve from this as he goes to bed, having made a wish on a wishing star.
As fans of 1940’s Pinocchio will remember, this is when the Blue Fairy (played here by Cynthia Erivo) enters the woodcarver’s home. She brings the puppet Pinocchio to life, appoints Jiminy as his conscience, and tells him he can be real if he’s ‘brave, truthful and unselfish.’ It’s unfortunate that we only get Erivo for one scene, as she’s one of the best things about the film. Her costume and the glittering blue effects that herald the Fairy’s arrival give her an ethereal glow. Her performance of When You Wish Upon A Star is also beautiful.
Problems begin to arise when Pinocchio leaves the comfort of his father’s home and steps out into the real world. Often the visual effects used to create the animated characters (and there are a lot of them) stick out like a sore thumb against the backgrounds. I imagine getting this right is difficult, especially when you’re working with a CGI puppet as the main character, but it’s nonetheless a bit jarring.
The accents don’t get much better either. While the movie’s set in Italy, only Geppetto and puppet show owner Strombolli actually have Italian accents. The rest are a mix of American and British, and there’s even a child on Pleasure Island who seems to be from New York. Again, it comes across as a caricature.
Despite these shortcomings, Pinocchio is a largely faithful adaptation, and it’s clear that the cast are giving their all to the roles. The voice cast especially does a great job – who knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt could do such a good Jiminy Cricket impression? The young Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who voices the titular character, conveys Pinocchio’s unending curiosity and enthusiasm especially well.
There are a few small tweaks made to the tale, not all of which add much to it. The most noticeable differences are in the musical numbers, as Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard wrote four new songs to add to the film. These aren’t necessarily bad, however their performances lack interesting choreography and a sense of showmanship. Luke Evans, playing the Coachman that leads children to Pleasure Island, draws the shortest straw where those songs are concerned. His scene is one of the darkest in the movie, so much so that even if it was an impressive musical number with complex choreography you wouldn’t be able to see it to properly appreciate it. It’s also immediately undermined by Pinocchio’s arrival at Pleasure Island, which is the most visually impressive part of the film.
When it comes to Pleasure Island, Pinocchio's slightly artificial aesthetic works in its favour. It’s the biggest, brightest theme park you could possibly imagine, with a variety of interesting subsections allowing for kids to do whatever they want. Mostly they insult each other and smash up fake classrooms. Clearly whoever invented this place had a very violent idea of ‘fun’.
Pleasure Island is also known for being the most disturbing part of the original Pinocchio. This adaptation doesn’t shy away from the potential scariness of the events that take place at the park, and it ends up being one of the film’s stand-out moments. There’s a transformation scene that takes place almost entirely in silhouette; despite this it still manages to be quite horrifying.
The final act that follows Pinocchio’s time on Pleasure Island is again mostly faithful to the animated film, with just a few small changes. Despite the jarring aspects the movie – from the visual effects, to the accents and the hit and miss new songs – it all culminates in a sweet and heartfelt ending worthy of a Disney adaptation.
On paper, it may seem like a shame that this didn’t get a theatrical release – it’s a classic tale, and the entirety of the impressive cast are clearly giving it their all. However, in practice Pinocchio regrettably feels as though it was made for the small screen.
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