Pinocchio Disney Plus review: The strings do hold it down

Pinocchio in the Disney live-action remakeDisney+

Pinocchio’s latest live-action adaptation aims for charm and whimsy, but fails to become a “real” good film.

Love them or hate them, Disney clearly isn’t stopping with its live-action adaptations of beloved animated classics. Now, this venture has reached Pinocchio, likely due to Disney wanting to smother up Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming film in the company’s quest for ultimate media domination.

Now, the original Pinocchio doesn’t have as many diehard fans as say, the princess movies, but it still deserved to be left in peace. Alas, this was not what happened.

This movie was always slated for a Disney+ release, and while movies solely made for streaming services can be great, it’s clear to see why the film wasn’t given a theatrical release. It acts, looks, and feels like a TV movie, one that you would play just to get your kids to shut up.

Spoiler warning for Pinocchio ahead…

Pinocchio aims for charm, but feels wooden

The film follows the same story beats as the original, par for adding in some elements, and taking some away. Namely what gets taken away can be felt in the pacing of each scene; the film, like all Disney remakes, expects you to have seen the original, and therefore speeds up the process of establishing these characters, perhaps except for the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo), who only sticks around for one scene.

On the flip side, once again Disney feels the need to add as much explanation and winking to the camera as possible. That’s another big issue for these live-action stints, they insist on holding the audience’s hand throughout, giving backstory to every tiny decision that every characters makes, and the film falls short of basically turning to the audience – which Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) often does – and stating, “Wow, a wooden puppet boy, that doesn’t happen in real life, does it? You’ve really got suspend your disbelief for this one, don’t you!? This is craaaazy!”

There are plenty of other moments that are meant to be funny but take you out of the movie. Most of Geppetto’s (Tom Hanks) clocks look like they came from a Disney theme park, and Honest John the fox (Keegan-Michael Key) manages to mention the words “Influencer” and “Chris Pine” in the space of a minute.

Disney+ loves to + things in these live-action films

The other things that the film adds, namely some new characters and songs, make it feel like the film is attempting to justify its existence, while not actually caring. Many of the new songs – including one that the Coachman (Luke Evans) sings, which wastes his talents, to be honest – lack any kind of iconic melody, or even complete endings to the song, they just taper off into nothing.

But the additions aren’t all bad. Sofia the seagull (Lorraine Bracco) has some funny lines and helps out the plot, and puppeteer Fabianna (Kyanne Lamaya) exists to lend a friendly face, a charming puppet, and a nice song, perhaps to lighten up the tone of the film a little more in its darkest moments.

Pinocchio loses the horror that made the original memorable

But this attempt to lighten the tone is what takes away from what made Pinocchio stand out in the first place: it was scary as all hell. The film will likely still scare younger kids, the iconic Donkey scene now includes some demonic smoke monsters (which granted, feel very odd in the film), but there isn’t that visceral horror element that was infused in the atmosphere and animation of early Disney films. Speaking of animation…

Like was the case with The Lion King, calling Pinocchio a live-action film feels somewhat foolish, it’s far more like a mix of CGI and live-action. The CGI varies in quality, sometimes looking okay, often looking like a 2000s TV movie, but unlike The Lion King, the quality doesn’t matter so much here, since the film is clearly going for a more artificial tone. This is emphasized by the sets, all of which feel like a set, but not necessarily in a bad way. The film aims for stylized spectacle, and it succeeds in that.

The only problem is that the CGI feels completely overused. The cat and fish being CGI feels odd enough, but a CGI glass of root beer? You couldn’t find a glass anywhere?

Poor Tom Hanks, who is doing his best to be his usual charming and loveable self, struggles to grasp all of the non-existent elements around him. At least Wilson was a physical thing. Thankfully the actor is – obviously – talented enough to bring a warmth and gentleness to the character which carries you through the movie.

All of the actors are doing their best. Pinocchio’s voice and repetitions of “Oh no” (by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) can get a little grating, but the actor is clearly trying to give a vintage sort of charm to the character.

Is Pinocchio 2022 as good as the original?

Ultimately, does the film live up to original? Absolutely not. It’s not as bad as the horse droppings that Pinocchio plays with – yes, that actually happens in the film – but I would recommend you just stick to the animated classic.

However, I will give the live-action film praise for its ending, as it somewhat deviates from the original. I won’t spoil it here, but the film actually gets across the message of the film better than the original did, by way of ambiguity.

Clearly, there was an attempt at meaning here. Clearly, there was an attempt at heart. But unlike Pinocchio, it’s never going to feel real.

Pinocchio is available to stream on Disney+ now.

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