Review: ‘Pinocchio’ (2022), starring Tom Hanks and the voices of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

September 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tom Hanks and Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) in “Pinocchio” (Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Pinocchio” (2022)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed magical world, the live-action/animated film “Pinocchio” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly wood carver makes a puppet boy that comes alive and then goes on a quest to become a human being. 

Culture Audience: “Pinocchio” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Tom Hanks and the original 1940 “Pinocchio” movie, but all the star power of this “Pinocchio” remake can’t save the movie from being a lackluster retelling of a classic story.

Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) in “Pinocchio” (Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

Watching how Pinocchio’s nose grows in Disney’s original 1940 “Pinocchio” movie is much more interesting to look at than this unnecessary “Pinocchio” movie remake from filmmaker Robert Zemeckis. The original “Pinocchio” movie is a Disney animated classic. This Disney 2022 remake of “Pinocchio,” which is a live-action/animation hybrid, is like watching a substandard imitation dressed up with modern technology. Even having a talented cast isn’t enough to elevate Zemeckis’ version of “Pinocchio” out of its stagnant blandness.

Zemeckis is the director, co-writer (with Chris Weitz) and one of the producers of this version of “Pinocchio,” which is based on author Carlo Collodi’s 1883 Italian children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” In addition to the 1940 animated film, there have been several other movie versions of “Pinocchio.” Italian actor/filmmaker Roberto Benigni directed, co-wrote and starred as the title character in a disastrous live-action reimagining of “Pinocchio,” released in 2002. Benigni then starred as Pinocchio creator Geppetto in director Matteo Garrone’s live-action “Pinocchio,” which was released in 2019 in Italy, and in 2020 and 2021 in other countries.

Zemeckis’ “Pinocchio” is the first of two “Pinocchio” movies releasing in 2022. Guillermo del Toro directed Netflix’s musical animated version of “Pinocchio” (due out in December 2022), featuring the voices of Gregory Mann as Pinocchio, Ewan McGregor as Sebastian J. Cricket and David Bradley as Geppetto. We don’t need two “Pinocchio” movies in one year. Enough already.

What viewers will see in Zemeckis’ version of “Pinocchio” is a lazy retread of Disney’s 1940 version, except for a few new characters (that don’t change the overall arc of the story), four new songs and a very different ending that’s the one truly unique thing about Zemeckis’ “Pinocchio.” Some people might not like this new ending, but the intentions are good in sending a message about celebrating self-acceptance. However, it’s not a good sign when a movie remake waits until the very end to show something that’s a surprise departure from the original movie story.

There’s no question that this version of “Pinocchio” has a talented cast, but their talents are not showcased in an exemplary way in the movie. Tom Hanks portrays Geppetto, the lonely and elderly wood carver, who makes a boy puppet named Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) as a companion, because Geppetto is grieving over the deaths of his wife and son. (The movie doesn’t mention how and when they died, but Geppetto has a family photo showing him with his wife and underage son when Geppetto was a young man.) Geppetto also has a pet goldfish named Cleo and a pet cat named Figaro, whose animation makes this feline look very fake. These animal characters add nothing important to the movie.

Geppetto has a home workshop filled with clocks that he’s made, but he refuses to sell them because he says his wife adored these clocks. There’s no explanation for how Geppetto makes a living if he won’t sell what he’s made. However, it’s abundantly clear that this version of “Pinocchio” is a soulless Disney remake when it has blatant shilling of other Disney movies. Many of Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks are basically Disney merchandise, with the clocks revealing characters from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Toy Story” (the Woody character, voiced by Hanks), “Cinderella,” the Zemeckis-directed “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Dumbo.”

Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the wise, talking cricket who becomes Pinocchio’s companion, is the narrator of this version of “Pinocchio,” and he tells the story as a flashback. This narration choice is awkward because viewers should feel like they’re going along for the ride and experiencing the journey as the characters are experiencing the story, not being guided by a know-it-all creature who tells this narration as a flashback. Jiminy Cricket’s hindsight narration ends up being a detriment to the movie.

One night, a northern star beams a light into Pinocchio, who is turned into a living, talking puppet. Jiminy Cricket is there to witness the whole thing. Shortly afterward, Pinocchio is visited by the Blue Fairy (played by Cynthia Erivo), who touches him with her wand and gives Pinocchio a mind of his own. The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio that in order for him to become a real boy, “You have to be brave, truthful and unselfish.”

Pinocchio later finds out that when he tells a lie, his nose temporarily elongates. The bigger the lie, the longer his nose gets. When he tells the truth again, his nose goes back to its original size. This pivotal plot development gets very underwhelming treatment in this “Pinocchio” remake, compared to how it was better-used in the original “Pinocchio” movie.

Of course, Geppetto is shocked that Pinocchio has come to life. He treats Pinocchio like a son, but Pinocchio still longs to be human. There’s a lot of talk in the movie about Pinocchio wanting a conscience as part of his humanity. And it isn’t long before Pinocchio ends up being separated from Geppetto. Pinocchio unwittingly becomes part of a traveling circus and is financially exploited by a magician named Stromboli (played by Giuseppe Battiston), who is helped by two con artists: a sneaky red fox named Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and his mute alley cat sidekick Gideon.

Other familiar “Pinocchio” characters are in this remake: street urchin boy Lampwick (played by Lewin Lloyd) befriends Pinocchio. And the villainous Coachman (played by Luke Evans, hamming it up to the hilt) is also in the movie. This “Pinocchio” remake keeps the same story line for Pleasure Island, which has some of the movie’s best visual sequences.

There are three new characters that give this version of “Pinocchio” more female representation than the original “Pinocchio” movie: a talking seagull named Sofia (voiced by Lorraine Bracco); a circus puppeteer named Fabiana (played by Kyanne Lamaya), who wears a leg brace that’s mentioned in the movie; and a French ballerina puppet named Sabina (voiced by Jaquita Ta’le), who is Fabiana’s constant companion. These characters don’t change the basics of the story, but they just allow the movie to have more diverse characters interact with Pinocchio.

This version of “Pinocchio” has somewhat of a useless sequence of Pinocchio trying to fit in with human children at a school. The school has a teacher named Signora Vitelli (played by Sheila Atim) and a headmaster (played by Jamie Demetriou), who expels Pinocchio from the school when the headmaster finds out that Pinocchio is not a human boy. It’s just another way to show why Pinocchio is desperate to become human, because Pinocchio wants to please his father by going to school to get an education.

This remake of “Pinocchio” makes a half-hearted attempt to be a musical, but there are only seven songs that are sung in the movie. Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard wrote four original songs for this movie, with all of them unremarkable and not worthy of praise: “When He Was Here With Me” and “Pinocchio Pinocchio,” performed by Hanks; “I Will Always Dance,” performed by Lamaya; and “The Coachman to Pleasure Island,” performed by Evans. The Leigh Harline/Ned Washington-written songs from 1940’s “Pinocchio” that are in this “Pinocchio” remake are “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me),” performed by Key; “I’ve Got No Strings,” performed by Ainsworth; and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” performed by Erivo.

This version of Pinocchio has a mishmash of international language accents, some delivered in better ways than others. Hanks’ Geppetto accent drifts in and out of sounding Italian and American. Lloyd’s version of Lampwick has an accent that sounds half-British, half-Brooklynite. It’s as if the actors know this “Pinocchio” movie is far from award-worthy, and some of them didn’t bother to work on having a consistent talking accent for their characters.

Disney has been getting criticism for doing inferior remakes of classic Disney animated films. This version of “Pinocchio” is an example of why this criticism exists. Disney had such little faith in this version of “Pinocchio,” it was not released in theaters. Disney also placed a review embargo on this version of “Pinocchio,” so that critics could not publish reviews of the movie before Disney+ released the movie to the public. This late embargo is always a sign of a bad film. Pinocchio should hold his nose for being in this stinker movie.

Disney+ premiered “Pinocchio” on September 8, 2022.

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