In the week when the Cineworld and Regal chains filed for bankruptcy, putting a large swathe of the UK and UK cinema chains under notice to potentially close, Disney dropping a live-action remake of Pinocchio on its streaming service feels like adding insult to injury. Having released planned cinema releases Soul, Luca and Turning Red direct to their streaming channel, it feels like Disney are deliberately putting the boot into the idea of being a cinema provider at all, and Covid-19 restrictions are no longer an excuse they can use for not getting behind their product. Of course, this might be because their reboot of the tale of a woodcarver who creates his own son was a wooden nickel in the first place, but that didn’t stop similarly clonky versions of The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast being massive hits.
Taking inspiration from Carlo Collidi’s 1883 book, but more directly lifting big chunks of the beloved 1940 animation, this weird and not wonderful film is directed by Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks stars as Geppetto. The two men worked on Forrest Gump, Castaway and erm, The Polar Express, and Hanks certainly anchors the scenes that he’s in with genuine charm. But the figure of Pinocchio, voiced by Benjamin Evan Aisworth, is curiously unfinished, even for a half-cut wooden puppet; his painted on, soulless eyes are distressing to look at, and the wired-looking companion Figaro the Cat is one of several major downgrades on the cartoon version. The story is the same old; lonely Geppetto makes his own boy Pinocchio, who has ambitions but no conscience and gets seduced away from the idea of studying. The little wooden boy falls in with a rough crowd, but eventually he and Gepetto escape from the attentions on Monstero the Whale.
This 2022 Pinocchio, the first of two, does score a few minor wins; Keegan-Michael Key makes a fantastic Honest John, and his duet with silent cat Gideon of Hi-Diddle-De -Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me) is the one moment of this film that really hits a mark. But other treasured songs like Give A Little Whistle are dropped in favour of four bland new originals, the animation and script both feel unfinished, the ending is revised unsuccessfully, and the whole half-cooked production reeks of Covid-era mis-management. Perhaps little kids don’t mind almost every element being a downgrade on the 1940’s film, but adults certainly will; elements like the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) and Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon Levitt) are designed to throw-back to their originals but don’t make much sense in this benighted incarnation.
A throwaway gag about what other names Geppetto might have given Pinocchio, including ‘Chris Pine’, is the kind of anachonism that kills this dead; what fairytale universe contains Pinocchio AND Chris Pine? Is this movie for the ages, or just an of-the moment variety show for Sept 2022? By doubling down on streaming at a time when the box-office is deserted, Disney is playing a major part in destroying the eco-system that sustained its audience for eighty years, as this misbegotten project would probably have cleaned up if properly released to theatres. But the politics of revenge seems stronger than any survival instincts in America’s race to the bottom, and if Disney want to drain the cash from cinema to rebrand themselves as an exclusive tv company, that’s their business. This version of Pinocchio feels like a rushed, single-use Xmas tv movie, and no more real that the fake-it-till-you-remake it puppet-boy we get here.