Well, I’m afraid it seems my fellow people who write about movies were not open to a giant corporation treating an 80+ year old animation masterpiece as i.p. to remake in a modern style, especially coming from a once A-list director they’ve turned on in his later, weirder years. So they engaged in a hyperbole measuring contest to find out who could hate Robert Zemeckis’s PINOCCHIO (2022) most outlandishly.
I get it, I guess, but I don’t relate. I can see refusing to give in to the existence of these remakes, I can see not wanting them to do it to PINOCCHIO specifically (it’s my personal favorite Disney movie), I can see not liking the finished product. But I can’t see thinking it’s terrible, let alone the worst thing you’ve seen lately/in years/ever. That’s just silly talk.
Yes, that is correct, I liked it for what it was. I’ll get into it in a minute. Just let me pre-amble a little bit more.
A review I read said that if you’re interested in PINOCCHIO you should just watch the original. Well yeah, I did recently. I do pretty often. That’s why I enjoyed seeing this. It’s kinda like going on Pinocchio’s Daring Journey at Disneyland. It’s never gonna match the movie, but isn’t it cool to see it retold in three dimensions? I love this story, these characters, this world, so it’s fun to see them reinterpreted in a different medium, giving me an alternate experience of it, with some different ideas of how to approach it, but obvious love for the original one, the real one, the forever one, the Pinocchio Prime. If somebody wanted to show this to their kids and not show them the original I would obviously disagree with that choice. But there’s just no possibility it will replace the 1940 masterpiece in many people’s minds any more than the non-Disney ones like, say, the Jonathan Taylor Thomas version did. (Or the way the Disney one did the Carlo Collodi book.) It’s not meant for that and there’s just not the most remote possibility that it could do that. This is a companion piece, showing us a beloved story in a different way.
Why not? Where’s the harm? You can’t even pay to see it! How many people do you think will start a Disney+ subscription just to see this? It’s hard to even call it a cash grab on this one. It’s more of a donation.
Here’s an example of a part I think people have gone a little overboard about. In the scene where Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks go off they did a little thing where some of the clocks are based on Disney movies – SNOW WHITE, SLEEPING BEAUTY, DUMBO, THE LION KING, and also TOY STORY and Zemeckis’s own WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. People are mad about it because it doesn’t include some of their favorites like CHICKEN LITTLE, MULAN 2 or DINOSAUR. Oh wait, no, that’s what I assumed they were mad about but now that I look closer I see that they’re calling it “corporate branding shlock,” “masturbatory corporate synergy,” etc.
I mean okay, fine, this sort of company-self-reference is very old hat, it certainly doesn’t count as an in-joke, because nobody is outside of it, and it’s a whole little scene, not just an easter egg like when you spot Lady and Tramp in 101 DALMATIONS or Mickey and Goofy in THE LITTLE MERMAID or Beast in ALADDIN or deceased Scar in HERCULES or Mrs. Potts in TARZAN or the Dumbo doll and MULAN poster in LILO & STITCH or Magic Carpet in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. It’s more intrusive, like when Genie turns into Pinocchio in ALADDIN.
Still. This is not evil corporation shit. This is a Disney fan doing corny Disney homages for Disney fans in a Disney movie. What’s the danger? Somebody never heard of THE LION KING and decides to click on that in the same streaming service he’s already using? Maybe we need to take a breath.
But I agree it would’ve been better if it was the Roger Rabbit clock, and then a CONTACT one, and then an ALLIED, etc.
A tricky part of these CG/live action remakes of Disney animated classics is their level of faithfulness/literalism. PETE’S DRAGON might be the best for doing its own thing, but I’m honestly not familiar with the original. To me THE JUNGLE BOOK is top of the line, deftly mixing the hang out movie spirit of the original and homages to specific moments with an expanded story and world (taking advantage of the Rudyard Kipling source material). I was excited for the same director’s take on THE LION KING but to me it wasn’t as good because the original is so sacred to ‘90s babies that they were too timid to change much. So it’s got the novelty of retelling a cartoon animal story with photo-realism, but that’s about it. Similarly, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST seemed more like an impressive cosplay exercise than an adaptation (though technically based on the stage musical based on the movie).
PINOCCHIO RELOADED is kind of in the middle of those two approaches, admittedly leaning a little closer to the LION KING one. It helps that I’m way more enamored of PINOCCHIO’s story and characters than THE LION KING’s. Some call the first act slow, which is what happens when you faithfully remake an 82 year old movie! For the record he gets out of the house a minute faster than in the original despite added songs and backstory.
Yeah, I’m iffy on that. Geppetto (Tom Hanks, HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE) had a son who died young, who he thinks Pinocchio resembles. Most questionably, the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo, WIDOWS)’s magic beam bounces off a framed photo of the son and onto the puppet to bring him life, as if there’s some connection between the two. I’m glad Geppetto never treats him as a resurrection, but as his own individual. And I suppose Zemeckis and co-writer Chris Weitz (ANTZ, ROGUE ONE) may have been right if their worry was that an old man wanting his puppet to be alive with no further explanation would seem silly in live action.
I was more on board for the detail that Geppetto refuses to sell his clocks (even to a very persistent customer) because he made them to amuse his also-deceased wife and keeps them as a memorial. He sells them to buy the boat to search for Pinocchio in, and the implications of that are not lost on the kid.
Though nothing can match the brilliant animation of the original Pinocchio, they wisely match the original design closely, just in this textured, three-dimensional medium where we can see the subtle woodgrain of his head, the felt of his hat, the woven white threads of his gloves. His voice is Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, little Miles Wingrave from The Haunting of Bly Manor, who really captures the personality of original voice Dickie Jones, down to the whiny but not quite annoying “Father!”
This version of Jiminy Cricket is a little more altered, I suspect because a more faithful design just would not look like a cricket. They narrow his face and make it more angular, though he retains his toes. I like the subtle wing design embroidered into his coattails and the chirp he makes every time he hops. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (SHADOWBOXER) is a little more forced in his performance than the kid is, but I accepted him. I liked him. And I like that he’s still the narrator, still breaks the fourth wall, and takes it another step by floating out of the Disney studio logo into the movie, where he hovers past himself within the story and then the two have a conversation.
The Blue Fairy has an even smaller part than in the original, because after giving Pinocchio life she leaves him alone to take care of shit himself. Ain’t that the truth. But she’s a fairy who exudes much more personality, and then Erivo gets to use her Broadway pipes to kick things off.
Geppetto still has his beloved cat Figaro and fish Cleo, and they’re very well executed “realistic” versions of their cartoon designs – still exaggeratedly cute, but with fur and scales and shit. As if they aren’t enough responsibility he also feeds a seagull named Sofia (voice of Lorraine Bracco, HACKERS), who acts as a way to pass information between characters in different locations (there were no phones then, you see) and to transport Pinocchio and Jiminy across water. That’s unfortunate since the scene when they walk under water in the original is so beautiful. On the other hand, we have the technology to make Pinocchio water ski, so it is our responsibility to use it.
Not the very next day after coming to life, but after a montage, Geppetto decides Pinocchio should go to school, and on the way there he’s spotted by the upright, clothes wearing fox Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key, THE PREDATOR) and his silent cat partner Gideon, who pretend to be talent scouts/managers, talk him up about getting famous and sell him to the puppeteer Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston). This parody of sleazy Hollywood types didn’t need any updating, but Zemeckis makes the mistake of two painful modern references (calling him an “influencer” and considering the stage name “Chris Pine”). Other than those two lines, I found no cringing. I was prepared for trouble in the scene where Pinocchio comes across a pile of horseshit and almost picks up a piece, but when he said “I can’t wait to go to school and learn what all this stuff is!” I was won over. Good poop joke. Approved. (Rated PG for rude humor.)
By the way, that horseshit looked very authentic, I’m not sure if it was sculpted or animated. My sympathy to whoever had to create that. Good job, though.
Zemeckis started making his mocap movies before the secret to realistic CG eyes had been cracked, making for some more-creepy-than-intended characters in THE POLAR EXPRESS and BEOWULF – which is one of the things I like about those movies. Learn to appreciate happy accidents, friends. By now the technology has advanced beyond some of those problems, so I’m gonna give Zemeckis and crew full credit for Honest John and Gideon being pretty creepy looking. Honest John kinda reminds me of weird furry stop motion characters like in The Tale of the Fox. And I genuinely love how Gideon looks, and his weird behaviors like a twitch that makes his skull rattle. That guy needs help, I think.
This Pinocchio initially knows better than to give in to these strangers, and he actually does make it to school, but the teacher (Jamie Demetriou, PADDINGTON 2, CRUELLA) is a fuckin bigoted asshole who literally kicks him out for being a puppet. So then he goes to be in the puppet show.
I love the atmosphere of the puppet show scene. It happens in a night time outdoor setting. When shot from the crowd it looks like watching some nervous kid in a school play, and when it switches to a view from on stage it simulates how overwhelming and then exhilarating it is for him.
There’s also a new subplot where he befriends Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya), a ballerina with a leg brace who’s one of Stromboli’s puppeteers, who speaks to Pinocchio mostly through a marionette that he seems to believe is alive, and who is trying to unionize. Or I guess turn the puppet troupe into a co-op. Good for her.
A thing about Zemeckis is that he and his team figured out how to make WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT when a live action/animation hybrid had never been done on that level. It was largely the genius of animation director Richard Williams and the elaborate painting of light and shadows on the animated characters, but also building sets with room for puppeteers underneath to control objects that would be moved around by the animated characters. By the time of POLAR EXPRESS Zemeckis was in the digital world but having to figure out another unproven approach to filmmaking. A couple decades later, most big budget FX movies (and TV shows) are kind of a mix of those two methods, compositing actors into virtual worlds inhabited with animated digital characters.
My point is this: now that they’ve got it pretty well figured out, let the man fuck around with it! I like Zemeckis because he respects the power of camera movement as storytelling, and he extends that to the virtual camera. Honestly I have no idea if the actors are ever on sets or if everything here is animation or what. But the d.p. is Don Burgess, who shot DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR, BLIND FURY and FORREST GUMP as well as CG-character-heavy movies like SPIDER-MAN, MONSTER TRUCKS and AQUAMAN. With the height and positioning of their shots they suggest the bug perspective, the puppet perspective, the bird perspective, even the flying mug of root beer perspective.
If you enjoy that mocap trilogy like I do you’ll appreciate similar touches like the shot that follows Sofia carrying Jiminy over the village, spotting Pinocchio with Honest John and Gideon below, flying through a window, interrupting a dinner, going back out a window and dropping Jiminy, at which point the shot stays on him as he opens his umbrella and floats onto John’s hat. That’s just how Zemeckis does it, but it also happens to be in the spirit of PINOCCHIO 1940, which pushed the technology of the multi-plane camera to create dazzling overhead shots, and even has an ahead-of-its-time hopping-Jiminy POV shot.
The Pleasure Island scene is one of the arguments for Zemeckis doing this movie, not that anyone is soliciting arguments at this time. But I see it as a culmination of what he was doing more crudely in POLAR EXPRESS – the movie as amusement park ride, immersing us in this fun but sinister setting. Pinocchio and Lampwick float in a boat that attaches to a ferris wheel, goes down many drops through a variety of attractions where children indulge themselves in excess and destruction. The “De Grade School” where they get to wreck everything plays great in live action, there’s binge eating, a store where they get to smash and loot, they shoot fireworks at each other, and my favorite is Sugar Mountain, where they sled down a hill of candy, stuffing handfuls of it in their mouths.
A great bit of Pleasure Island chaos is when they reach the top of the ferris wheel and somehow some fucking kid is running across the wheel, jumps onto the boat, steals Pinocchio’s root beer and runs off.
Pinocchio gives a pretty good “are you fucking serious?” look after that.
It’s bullshit that modern Disney won’t/can’t include cautionary child cigar smoking in Pleasure Island, and also the donkey transformation (though pretty faithful to the original staging) isn’t as terrifying. On the other hand, the CG rendition of the Coachman (Luke Evans, NO ONE LIVES)’s demonic henchmen, particularly in the scene where he chases Pinocchio while riding two of them, delivers the nightmare fuel children crave.
There are other little changes here and there. Pinocchio’s donkey ears and tail are wooden, like him. Monstro is not a whale, but a sea monster (a whale with tentacles and shark-like mouth).
The most meaningful change is the theme that Pinocchio makes things better whenever he apologizes. He fucks up a bunch of stuff like we all do but it’s okay when he admits it and says he’s sorry. It’s a pretty good lesson to teach the youths judging by how alot of the adults in this world have turned out.
The other thing that’s a little different about the message is that Jiminy sort of leaves it up to us whether or not to believe Pinocchio literally transformed into “a real boy.” Jiminy’s narration says that “some say” he turned into a real boy (journalism code word for “I made this shit up”). “Did it really happen?,” he asks. “Who knows?” Because the important thing is not Pinocchio jumping through a bunch of hoops to change into something he’s not. The important thing is Geppetto’s realization that he considered him “my real boy” all along. Unconditional love.
I actually missed until going back through it that as they’re walking away at the end his joints go away away and his wood turns to skin. I guess I was distracted wondering if following a mysterious light into a cave was supposed to mean they all died. I’d actually prefer they don’t show what happened to him at all. It’s always disappointing when the puppet turns into just some kid, or the Beast turns into some douchey prince. Nobody wants that. I’m glad they didn’t show his face, at least. Devon Sawa was too old for the part.
Since PINOCCHIO was not released theatrically and there’s really no measure of how it makes money, hopefully they consider it a smash hit. ‘Cause number one I think we can all get behind more of that sweet Zemeckis CG Pinocchio that unites us all, and #2 it should be a civil rights drama about Geppetto suing that fucking terrible school for discrimination and for physically assaulting his son, a real boy.
P.S. I really really want to review a bunch of the other live action PINOCCHIOs, but I promised myself just today that I wouldn’t start any more new series until I finish Weird Summer and then a very long top secret series I started writing several years ago. But look forward to me doing that some time in the distant future if we all live long enough.
September 13th, 2022 at 8:38 am
I’m just happy you continue to go to bat for Beowulf, a movie I thought was awesome, and thought everyone else thought was awesome (because the theater I saw it with seemed to have a GREAT time, and were talking about how awesome they thought it was as they exited). Then I discover–SIKE–everybody fucking hates it, and I’m a complete idiot for not hating it with them (although upon further investigation, it seemed a very low percentage of ‘everybody’ seemed to actually–y’know–see the fucking movie. And my idiocy evolved into “You actually WATCHED that???” Yeah, I tend to do that before deciding if I like a movie…)
(cos I’m an idiot…)