I wish… I wish Disney’s Pinocchio (2022) was not a real film…

Another year and another Disney animated classic added to the list of live-action remakes. This time, Pinocchio (1940) gets the touch-up – revamping the classic narrative with a few modern twists. In case you missed it, Pinocchio follows a puppet who has been bought to life and must prove himself worthy in order to become a real boy. It’s as simple as that… sort of.

Where to begin with this thing? Well firstly, it’s not a good movie. I was rooting for it to succeed, but I lost more and more faith as time went on. It started off pretty okay – the opening sequences up until Pinocchio sets off for school were somewhat charming – but it’s all a steep decline from there. From one scene to the next, I got progressively more disengaged with the story and the characters – the complete opposite reaction to what this powerful story should bring. It hits pretty much all of the main beats from its animated counterpart, which is expected, but it does so almost to a fault. If you’re going to hit the same plot points beat-for-beat, you need to capture and emit that same magic, otherwise it’s going to feel like a cheap and hastily-put together imitation. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, that’s what this feels like. It comes across as a half-arsed attempt to cash-in on a timeless classic. Now, I don’t believe that was the intention at all, especially since it’s a Robert Zemeckis film, but that’s how I felt while watching.

So, why does this film become so miserably boring and straight-up bad by the time it finishes? One reason it falters comes down to the modernised narrative elements that are embarrassingly forced in. I’m all for adding new beats in these remakes, but only where it actually adds something of value to the film’s story or themes. In here, there’s the addition of a seagull character who is used for a cheap gag or two – completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. Then the most prominent addition is in the form of Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya), someone Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) encounters on his travels. The mini arc of this character adds nothing at all to the emotion or themes of the film, and doesn’t even really service the story in a specific way – a complete waste of time.

Another reason the magic of the original is absent – the CGI is consistently poor. There’s even a couple of moments in which it’s especially horrible, ripping me right out of the film. When the CGI on your lead character isn’t great to begin with, you know you’re in for a tough one. Now, I understand that the story of Pinocchio doesn’t really lend itself to being strictly live-action, requiring some level of CGI, but in trying to recapture the magic (and sheer terror) of places like Pleasure Island, they go way overboard. If the CGI was at least good and seamless, it wouldn’t be much of an issue – it’s just painfully jarring.

Not even the performances can do anything to save this film. Unfortunately, I didn’t love Benjamin Evan Ainsworth’s voice performance as Pinocchio. There wasn’t much liveliness to his performance and his delivery was a little flat, rather than being snappy and punchy. Much of that could come down to experience, so I don’t hold anything against the boy. I’ve actually really liked him in other roles. It speaks volumes when not even Tom Hanks could do anything to save the movie. He’s okay at best, but more times than not it felt obvious that he was ‘acting’. In theory, it seems like Tom Hanks as Geppetto would be a slam dunk, but it just doesn’t work here. Then there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Jiminy Cricket… talk about taking a charismatic character and turning him into an insufferable and unfunny bore. None of his comedic one-liners hit, and he barely made an impact. I’ll follow this up by touching on the dialogue – there’s cringeworthy lines all over, and much of the delivery is very wooden (excuse the pun).

As much as it seems like everything in here was terrible – it wasn’t all bad. Alan Silvestri’s score is the biggest highlight. The performances, visuals and narrative may have been unable to capture that Pinocchio charm, but Silvestri had no issues doing exactly that. He channels a bit of that Back to the Future (1985) magic and composes a great score that kept me sane throughout the film. I mentioned the early moments of the film were okay, and that’s in part due to the brief presence of Keegan-Michael Key’s Honest John. Funny, charismatic and entertaining – Honest John was the best character in the entire film. If only he was in it more, that could have salvaged a positive review.

In the end, Disney’s Pinocchio is a shocker. In a year where we have a second high-profile Pinocchio film releasing, this needed to bring its A-game. Even backed by the benefits of nostalgia, this film couldn’t recapture what made the 1940 classic so special. Bad visuals. Boring story. Average performances. With hardly a redeeming quality besides Silvestri’s score and the early hope that this could be pretty decent, there’s not much of a reason to check this out. Even if you have Disney Plus, it’s not worth the time – just put on the 1940 original and I guarantee you’ll get more out of it. Better luck with the next live-action remake…

3.5/10

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