Tom Hanks stars in a delightful new take on the classic story of a puppet who wants to be "real"

Tom Hanks stars in a delightful new take on the classic story of a puppet who wants to be “real”

There are two famous Pinocchio features coming out this year, which is at least one more than any reasonable person could have expected. The version at hand, Robert Zemeckis’ live-action-slash-CGI creation, comes straight from Disney’s Magic Castle conglomerate and will be contrasted by Netflix with a stop-motion tale by Guillermo del Toro (coming to a device near you in December). .

Not to mention Matteo Garrone’s 2019 Italian-language Pinocchio, with Roberto Benigni – who previously played the main character in the 2002 film version he directed – as the kind carver Geppetto, father of the wooden boy.

People’s appetite for Carlo Collodi’s magical puppet, whose serialized adventures were first published in book form in 1883, is yet to be determined. Even still, perhaps this Pinocchi run speaks to the desire for a post-ironic society confused with fake news – “starlight, bright star, first star I see tonight”, to quote Geppetto – for a return to the kind of truth that it’s as simple as the nose on your face.

That’s not to say that Zemeckis’ reimagining of the 1940 Disney classic comes in conditions that could be called auspicious – certainly the fact that it has been moved to a streaming release suggests a far from total confidence on the part. of the Disney powers that be.

Despite his pioneering work that mixes live action with animation (see: Who Framed Roger Rabbit), the director’s final days filmography contains a litany of mysterious clunkers set in the valley (see: The Polar Express, Canto of Christmas, Beowulf – or maybe not? t).

Humanoid male toy with his arm out looking at his little friend, a smartly dressed humanoid cricket perched on the boy's arm.
Zemeckis said in the press release: “All the learning of visual effects that I have had over the years has gone into making this film.”(Included: Disney +)

His most recent offering, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, has at least skipped the creepy mo-cap stuff. Alas, it wasn’t very good.

What a surprise, then, to find that Zemeckis’ Pinocchio is one of the most artful – even delightful – produced by the director or the Disney live-action nostalgia factory recently.

Even with the grain of his material barely made visible, Pinocchio in CGI (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is not a presence on the wooden screen, and Tom Hanks, a Zemeckis habitual, seems satisfied with Geppetto’s brass buckle shoes and adores his de facto son. (The fact that he gives such a warm performance despite him having to act against what was likely a tennis ball suggests that the director had a longer game in mind with Cast Away.)

Older gray-haired man kneeling and interacting with a small humanoid toy wearing a yellow hat, red shorts, white and brown top.
Hanks had to act in front of an imaginary fish, cat, cricket and wooden boy. “The things you have to imagine are so complex,” he said in a press release.(Included: Disney +)

Perhaps learning from Tim Burton’s follies in Dumbo (2019), Zemeckis – working from a script he wrote with Chris Weitz – comes close enough to the original Disney, rejecting the temptation to blow up what is ultimately a simple story. and intimate, disproportionate, or to inflate the running time beyond the capacity of a restless young person, or even an adult.

After being kicked out of school on his first day, Pinocchio’s quest to become a “real boy” – proving to be “brave, sincere and selfless” – sees him fall into a career in show business, before being taken to a carnival. dystopian for delinquents and then on the high seas, but these adventures are all short. (“Did you do all this in one day?” Bela Geppetto when he was reunited with his wandering creation.)

Minor plot and character changes help smooth out the episodic structure of the old story, the film proceeds with the same confidence as the golden gondola guiding our wide-eyed hero through the candy-filled canals of Pleasure Island, balancing the hiss of firecrackers and glass breaking.

Things went away even before the standard Disney Castle opening graphics faded: “Isn’t that a catchy little tune?” sighs Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Jiminy Cricket as he slips into the frame with umbrella in hand, the orchestral notes of When You Wish Upon a Star – the company’s longtime signature tune, originally written for Pinocchio – swell.

Live-action still of humanoid cricket wearing a blue cape and top hat with red umbrella and vest.
“[What] I love more than anything about Pinocchio is the moral of the story, which is the importance of telling the truth, ”Gordon-Levitt said in press notes.(Included: Disney +)

Overcome the useless backstory of the dead son and the clumsy Disney IP nods of the opening scene: Do the cowboys Woody and Maleficent really need to figure among the characters in Geppetto’s cuckoo clock wall? Isn’t the tacit homage to the opening of Back to the Future enough? – and soon you’ll be cleverly spoken in a quiet manner by Keegan’s cunning fox-Michael Key Honest John, who would tempt Pinocchio from his right, if confused, path.

His patter receives a worthy update, touching upon contemporary anxieties around our strongly mediated identities. “A lot of people say you’re actually not real until everyone knows about you,” he tells Pinocchio, massaging the naïve’s desire to become ‘real’ into a reason for pursuing a life in the theater.

A black woman dressed as a magical fairy appears semi-transparent as she waves a wand at a small humanoid toy.
Actress and singer Cynthia Erivo plays the Blue Fairy, who brings Pinocchio to life. In this version she sings When You Wish Upon a Star.(Included: Disney +)

Before you know it, you’re spit out of Monstro’s mouth – here, not a whale like before, but a creature with a little more tentacles – and onto the shore for a sentimental but tactful ending, where the viewer duly comes. greeted by Mr. Cricket in his former capacity as a storyteller.

The most important intervention by Zemeckis and Weitz is also the weakest; the character of Fabiana (played by Kyanne Lamaya) – who is trapped, along with her puppet dancer Sabina, employed by the unscrupulous showman Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston) – actually has no impact on the narrative. Her presence seems like a rather inert attempt to tick the boxes, most likely with a view to selling more merchandise to girls.

Overhead shot of a humanoid toy, a boy wearing a red and brown jumpsuit, a cream colored hat and white gloves with his arms outstretched.
Ainsworth, who voiced Pinocchio, was on set every day reciting his lines and acting with the rest of the cast.(Included: Disney +)

It is to be expected that Pinocchio will indulge his very young audience a little, and sin on the side of conservatism in his message on the importance of the family (although an unconventional family, consisting of a man, a cat, a goldfish and a puppet created in the image of the deceased son of man).

Still, the ways in which Zemeckis and Weitz have chosen to play with the concept of being ‘real’ – here, being true to themselves as much as they are truthful – make this Pinocchio more than just a flashy but soulless retelling of the Disney Original. And it’s not a lie.

Pinocchio is streaming on Disney +.

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