“Happily ever after was never meant to be true,” says an important character in a new adaptation of of Carlo Collodi’s classic novel The Adventures of Pinocchio – a statement that cannot be taken at face value in a Disney production.
The Hollywood studio’s live-action movie sticks closely to its animated film from 1940. The latest version has been directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has vast experience in meshing computer-generated imagery with human actors. The family-friendly production makes only one serious tweak to the 1940 film, which brings it closer to present-day concerns about children born with different abilities.
Zemeckis’s Pinocchio is being streamed on Disney+ Hotstar. Tom Hanks plays Geppetto, the woodcarver who builds Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) in the image of a lost son. A boon from the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) frees Pinocchio from his strings. But he has some way to go in his journey from pine-wood marionette to flesh-and-blood boy.
Pinocchio brings back nearly all the popular characters from the animated movie, including the talking cricket Jiminy (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the cat named Figaro, and the host of ne’er-do-wells who try to corrupt Pinocchio. These include the fox Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), the impresario Stromboli (Guiseppe Battiston) and the nasty Coachman (Luke Evans).
Carlo Collodi’s novel has yielded many adaptations, most recently in 2019. Italian director Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio deftly exploited the story’s whimsical qualities and benefitted from its portrayal of the puppet as a somewhat foolish adventurer.
Another version of Pinocchio, this time made in the stop-motion animation style by Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafson, will be streamed on Netflix on December 9. This film promises to be a darker adaptation that fuses fantastical elements into the original narrative arc of innocence evolving into wisdom.
Zemeckis’s film about “the toy who thinks he’s a boy” appears to be aimed at a young demographic. There’s a clockwork precision to Pinocchio’s adventures, set to sweeping music and cutting-edge visuals. But the possibilities for bizarreness presented by the source material are lost in a typically slick Disneyfied product.
Despite attempts to drag Pinocchio into the Instagram-dominated present – “Why would you want to be real when you can be famous,” Honest John asks the puppet – the film is content to stick to the beats of the 1940 film. There’s no shortage of dazzling effects, but a sense of wonderment and discovery is missing.