Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis and Chris Weitz
Cast: Tom Hanks (Geppetto), Cynthia Erivo (The Blue Fairy), Giuseppe Battiston (Stromboli), Kyanne Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (voice of Pinocchio), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (voice of Jiminy Cricket), Lorraine Bracco (voice of Sofia), Keegan-Michael Key (voice of Honest John), Jaquita Ta'le (voice of Sabina)3 out of 5 stars
Ever since the success of the live-action The Lion King, Disney has been flexing its animation muscle with ever more adaptations of their classic animated films. Pinocchio is its latest offering, which blends photorealistic anthropomorphic animals, humans and an animated Pinocchio who looks like a 3D (but not photorealistic) rendition of the character from the original animated film. In a way, this is animated adaptation of an animation — with an eye towards keeping Pinocchio looking like the adorable puppet that audiences have remembered for over 80 years.
Pinocchio is a live-action adaptation (with many CGI elements) of the 1940 animated film of the same name. In the fantasy musical, a boy puppet is brought to life and goes on a quest to become a real boy. As he goes on a quest to achieve his dreams, he learns about morality and the true meaning of family.
The key premise of Pinocchio is that he wants to become a real boy — a goal that (spoilers!) he achieves by the end of the film. But while the original film shows us exactly what he looks like as a real boy, this adaptation doesn't. In fact, the transformation is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair, with Jiminy Cricket's dialogue even running counter to what's happening on screen. While it was disappointing at first, the reasons for this choice are obvious in hindsight. To cast a real boy who looks like Pinocchio would be a challenge and to animate Pinocchio as a CGI human would be awkward. And since most people remember Pinocchio's appearance as that of a boy puppet, this may be the most impactful to end the film (rather than to present an image that is only seen for a few seconds in the movie). It works, but I still would have liked to see what Pinocchio's human form would be like.
The adaptation is faithful to the original, right down to the depiction of the anthropomorphic fox and cat duo Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) and Gideon. In the original animated film, the talking animal pair didn't seem so egregious — but in a live-action adaptation, where you're reminded that humans exist and that animals are generally not anthropomorphic (Geppetto's cat Figaro comes to mind), to see these two characters can be downright weird. Why do some cats like Gideon wear clothes and walk on two legs, while other cats like Figaro walk on all fours as house pets?
Nevertheless, this speaks to the faithfulness of the adaptation and its determination to pay homage to the original, even if it means retaining elements that don't quite translate well to live-action. As a result, certain scenes can feel literally quite empty — while the focus is on the spectacle of the location, the lack of anyone besides the main characters creates a sense of disjointed awkwardness that doesn't quite fit at times.
Pinocchio also isn't quite the star of his own show. Yes, he gets the lion's share of the screen time. But Geppetto (Tom Hanks) draws the eye in any scene that he's in (although his accent can be inconsistent — what nationality is supposed to be playing again?), and the other characters, even the animated ones, seem larger than life than Pinocchio does.
But perhaps the best change to the film is the depiction of Monstro. A whale in the original, this version Monstro appears to be a whale at first too — until you see its tentacles flailing. It's a nice Lovecraftian touch to the menacing monster that we all know and love, and this change is a welcome one.
Overall, Pinocchio is a faithful adaptation, with some awkward bits that should have been changed and others that weren't. Still, the love and dedication behind its production is evident, even if the end product could have been improved. Pinocchio finally becomes a "real" live-action movie (even if he's still technically animated), so it looks like wishes do come true after all.