Geppetto (Tom Hanks) sends Pinocchio off to school. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 8 (UPI) — Pinocchio, on Disney+ Friday, is a joyless exercise in obligatory adaptation. If this is Hollywood’s idea of a live-action Pinocchio, they all owe Roberto Benigni an apology.
The success of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin proved audiences would embrace live-action remakes of Disney animated classics. The Lion King showed that you could just do the exact same story with computer-generated imagery instead of drawings, but why?
When the technology becomes the reason to do a remake, it doesn’t work. That’s not an adaptation; it’s just a translation that will become just as obsolete as soon as technology and culture move on.
So, Pinocchio still is the story of a wooden puppet that comes to life, only now his stringless ambulatory form is a digital visual effect.
Pinocchio (voice of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) still gets sidelined on his first day of school, trying to become an actor and then going to Pleasure Island while his creator, Geppetto (Tom Hanks) looks for him.
The remakes that work do something unique with the material. The 1986 The Fly and 1982 The Thing are the best examples, but even Disney’s Jungle Book used technology to do things live animals and child actors could never have done in a movie before.
Now you can make a CGI Pinocchio dance to “I’ve Got No Strings,” but using the latest technology to animate a wooden puppet zaps the wonder right out of it. It’s computers; that’s how they did it.
And the only updates to the story are references to other Disney properties and pop culture celebrities. Such anachronistic references are no fun because they reek of corporate synergy.
Modern references like Chris Pine are cringey in a period fairy tale adaptation. Pinocchio is not Shrek, Disney. By the time Pinocchio does a superhero landing on his knee with his hand on the ground, that’s already tired in live-action superhero movies.
A movie like Free Guy could get away with some anachronistic references because it was set in a video game in the modern landscape. Loading Disney’s treasured classic with cross-platform homages is undignified.
This Pinocchio also over-explains parts that never begged questions. The explanation for how Geppetto chose the name Pinocchio feels as blatant as Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s explanation for how Han got his last name, yet somehow still not the actual origin of the name (which means pine nut).
Despite all of the technology employed on his incarnation, nothing looks real. There are lots of rambunctious kids on Pleasure Island, so it’s populated, but the whole sequence still looks like Pinocchio on a stationary platform being cycled through digitally extended sets.
Of course, all the ocean and whale sequences look like they’re filmed in a water tank. Hanks is then placed into digital environments and his CGI companions added in with him.
If this is the first version of Pinocchio kids see, the message of honesty and sussing out hucksters may still be valid. That theme will still be confused by all the spectacle surrounding those themes, though.
Kids are less likely to receive the message because even kids can tell they’re being pandered to. They may not articulate it, but they’ll know Pinocchio is just copying other movies they like more.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.