It’s enough now. Please let it be enough.
New generations of children aren’t enjoying these Disney live action remakes and the grown ups who enjoyed the originals as little ones and are revisiting the remakes solely for nostalgia are feeling ripped off. Nobody is coming out of these pictures with a sense of wonder, or whimsy, or joy or anything that the Disney animations used to inspire. Instead, these films are creating resentment, not only for the remakes, but also by tainting the memories of the original properties by association.
So now comes “Pinocchio”, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as the voice of Pinocchio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, Cynthia Erivo as the Blue Fairy and Tom Hanks as Geppetto. And it sucks. It’s genuinely and objectively awful on almost every level with a slight exception perhaps for the set design and costuming. It’s basically a shot for shot remake (but not done nearly as well) with some poorly chosen musical numbers, extended superfluous dialogue and the addition or some pretty erroneous new characters. Every creative choice that’s been made has either leached something beautiful out of the original source material or added something cynical and shallow instead. And the 1940 “Pinocchio” isn’t even one of my favourite Disney classics! The thing about the original though is that it is quite dark, absolutely the darkest of all those Disney animated pictures; the scene in which Pinocchio’s little friend gets turned into a donkey at Pleasure Island is genuinely the stuff of nightmares.
One of the biggest things that filmmakers underestimate with regard to these remakes is that what works in animation doesn’t necessarily work in live action. Jiminy Cricket as an animated little character is cute and funny and when he gets caught in the mechanics of one of Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks it’s funny and you know he’s not really getting hurt. Jiminy Cricket’s CGI real life counterpart is creepy and reptilian and when he gets tracked through the cogs it doesn’t make sense that his head doesn’t explode. While the design of Pinocchio as a cartoon works, his CGI real life counterpart looks stupid, especially when his eyes are so blatantly animated in contrast to the rest of his body. Also, his voice is unbelievably irritating and the little bastard never shuts up! Benjamin Evan Ainsworth does a pretty good job at imitating the voice of the original puppet, but has no tonality in his voice and has such incessant banal dialogue delivered in the exact same nauseating pitch that I wouldn’t have minded so much if he did end up being turned into a donkey.
Tom Hanks as Geppetto is out of place as well (he hasn’t exactly been on a winning streak lately, I wasn’t the biggest fan of him in “Elvis”). The character of Geppetto only works as a sweet, frail old man, at least in his 80s, where his eccentricities are forgivable because he’s, well, a little senile. Portrayed as he is by Hanks in his mid fifties, he just comes across as a bit of a creepy middle aged weirdo who tickles his pet fish and it’s not exactly endearing. His accent is half assed and inconsistent, (considering its supposed to be set in 1800s Italy) and it’s as if Hanks has clocked out a bit and knows that if he puts on a wig and mumbles a little with his trademark warmth then that’ll be enough. One plot change which I did think was warranted was adding a little back story to Geppetto and why he wanted a kid so badly; he had a wife and child whom he lost and that’s why he carved a puppet that looked just like his son.
The script, apart from where they’ve literally just taken the words from the original and rehashed them, is unbelievably exposition heavy, uninspired and hackneyed, insipid where it’s supposed to be sweet, irritating when it’s supposed to be funny (and it’s not like they didn’t try, there are so many jokes crammed in here that fall absolutely flat) and stupid where it’s supposed to be terrifying. But apart from all of that, the whole thing just draaaaaags! It’s so unforgivably boring, which is an achievement in itself for while the story isn’t one of my favourites, it’s certainly not a dull one. Perhaps most unforgivably of all, the Blue Fairy doesn’t even turn Pinocchio into a real boy at the end of the film, Jiminy Cricket narrating that it didn’t matter because in his heart he was as real as any real boy could be. What an absolute crock. Of all the plot points to mess with, this is the one that makes no sense at all. If I was Pinocchio, I’d feel absolutely jipped. He’s proven himself honest and unselfish and now the Blue Fairy isn’t going to deliver on her end of the deal? Is he supposed to just spend eternity now as a five year old wooden puppet? Can he grow older? Or have a family? Or go swimming without worrying about growing moss or sleep without being eaten by termites?
I think what’s so disappointing is that when Disney has taken original stories and produced new films in the last few years like “Moana”, “Frozen”, “Inside Out” or “The Brave Little Toaster” (this isn’t necessarily a recent film, but a genuine film from 1987, and follows the lives of kitchen appliances and what antics they get up to after dark), they’ve been unbelievable successes and generated entire new fan bases without shitting all over the legacies of the films that have come and gone. People are rightfully protective of these films and the memories that they associate with them, and unless the remake actually improves on the original somehow, and handled with proper love and care and good humour, then they just need to be left the hell alone.
By Jock Lehman