Tom Santilli is a professional film critic, TV personality, host and the Executive Producer of Movie Show Plus.
It was Cinderella, not Pinocchio, who once told us, "A wish is a dream your heart makes." "Cinderella" - released back in 1950 (!!!) - came to us back in an era of experimentation, unbridled creativity and endless wonder, led by the American pioneer, Walt Disney.
It was a different time, then. 10 years prior to Cinderella giving us that famous line, we had been given "Pinocchio." Released in 1940, it was just the second full-feature animated film from Disney (coming three years after "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"), and it was a Disney-fied version of a classic fairy tale, mixed with important life lessons for the kiddos (a blueprint the studio would use for the next century) and featuring an iconic score and soundtrack that, to this day, can still evoke emotion from anyone who has even accidentally brushed up against anything Disney (and whom among us hasn't?). "When You Wish Upon A Star" is the melody that defines Disney, and has become their unofficial, official company slogan.
With the 2022 live-action re-make of "Pinocchio," I'm not quite sure what was wished upon exactly, and I'm not quite sure that that wish originated in the heart. It seems to me that this was more of a "directive" than a wish, from a corporate entity that holds nothing sacred. I can just picture current Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, humming to that classic Cinderella melody, "A live-action re-make is a dream my bank account makes."
On the heels of live-action versions of "The Jungle Book," "The Lion King," "Aladdin," "Cinderella," "101 Dalmatians" and "Dumbo," we get the wish-fulfillment of a live-action "Pinocchio," a wish that no one ever has made or asked for, but we all knew was inevitable. It's not so much "bad" as it is unnecessary, and it once again has audiences asking: Why?
Audience members who get irritated by all things "woke" will surely despise this new "Pinocchio," a tale as old as time that has been spun to meet modern-day inclusion efforts. We get a CG-animated Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who is a just-fine Pinocchio), a wooden puppet brought to life after his father, Geppetto (Tom Hanks) wishes him into being one night. The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) grants his wish, as an exasperated and poorly-rendered Jiminy Cricket (voiced equally-poorly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) jumps into the mix, acting as the boy's conscience.
Old Walt had an affinity for taking existing stories, and spinning them with his own magical touch. The story of Pinocchio originated back in 1883 by Italian children's author, Carlo Collodi, and like many other animated Disney classics, the original tale was a bit darker and a bit more mature than what ended up on-screen.
In this Disney+ version, we get the story most of us remember from the 1940 animated film, with Pinocchio getting caught up with the crafty fox, Honest John (voiced here by Keegan-Michael Key, one of the film's only bright spots), being taken prisoner by the opportunistic puppeteer, Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston), turning into a donkey, and ending up in the mouth of the gigantic sea creature, Monstro. But this is 2022, so included in this story we also get a character, the budding puppeteer, Sabina (Jaquita Ta'le) and her marionette friend, Sofia (voiced by Lorraine Bracco), who becomes a - love interest? - and companion on Pinocchio's journey.
Tom Hanks didn't bother me as Geppetto, and for all of those "purists" out there complaining about Hanks' bad Italian accent, may I point out that the original film had the character voiced by Austrian voice-actor, Christian Rub. Look, Geppetto is not some sort of ancient, beacon of Italian authenticity to begin with. Hanks does a fine enough job.
Robert Zemeckis is at the helm of the new "Pinocchio," a director that has always had a love for technology and pushing the boundaries of what can be done on-screen. He also has always been drawn to family-fare and CG-storytelling, from 2009's "A Christmas Carol," to "Beowulf" and "The Polar Express." Even earlier Zemeckis (films like "Death Becomes Her" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" come to mind) always had some element of experimentation baked into the cake. But where a film like "The Polar Express" was criticized for its human-like characters existing in the "uncanny valley," "Pinocchio" is empty and vapid in different ways. There was no life behind the eyes of the little boy in "The Polar Express," and there is hardly any life in any frame of "Pinocchio."
My nose might grow if I say that I enjoyed "Pinocchio." I didn't. Movies like this are not, in my opinion, real movies. They are some strange form of flattery, films that exist solely to remind of us the same, better film, that existed previously. If this film was the dream your heart made, I wish you well in your recovery.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lorraine Bracco, Cynthia Erivo, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Angus Wright, Keegan-Michael Key, Giuseppe Battiston, Jaquita Ta'le
Co-Written and Directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Flight," "Beowulf," "The Polar Express," "Cast Away," "Forrest Gump," "Back to the Future I, II & III," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"
"Pinocchio" is on Disney+ on Thursday, September 8th, 2022.