In the early days of Disney’s live-action remakes (a few years ago) it felt like, at the very least, they were intentionally trying to find director’s to bring their own unique style to the table when it came to retelling such classic tales. One of my favorites of this bundle of remakes was Pete’s Dragon – a film that thematically took the bare bones of the story, but arguably improved on it in every single way within giving the characters and story such unexpected and powerful emotion and nuance. Even Faverau’s The Jungle Book and Branagh’s Cinderella were, while not without their issues here and there, attempts to be distinct enough but do justice by these classical stories. For a while, I wasn’t necessarily anticipating these remakes to come out, but was content with the fact that we were getting them.
Somewhere along the way (arguably with 2019’s The Lion King) it felt like there was a certain shift in the feel of these movies – it was less about retelling the stories in unique ways that would make them modern, but more as an excuse to capitalize off of nostalgia and simply do remakes that took no artistic or narrative liberties. This isn’t to say they’re all awful, but between The Lion King or Mulan, they simply feel lesser. Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio remake is weird in the sense that it doesn’t quite fall underneath The Lion King or Mulan in terms of quality, but it somehow feels even more lifeless and artificial than anything Disney has remade thus far. And with Zemeckis behind the camera? That genuinely shocked me.
This isn’t to say that Zemeckis has had all heavy-hitters as of late, but it’s undeniable the man has made so many classics and still has skill. Pinocchio feels like it has absolutely zero passion behind the camera at any given point – even a committed performance from Tom Hanks a Gepetto doesn’t do much here. Just like the 2019 remake of The Lion King, I think the performances (both live-action and vocal performances) range from completely serviceable to even somewhat inspired. It’s competently made for the most part, feels decently directed and like there was some form of enthusiasm from the cast and crew… and yet, it feels so completely artificial and simply dead-on-arrival from the moment it begins. Whether it’s from the photo-realism of the characters, to the genuinely hollow and cheap-looking visual effects, to the fact that the film is completely stripped of the heart of the original in every conceivable way.. it just never works, at any given point.
I won’t even bother to recap the plot of this film, because if you’ve seen the original you essentially know where this is going. It doesn’t take any liberties and also doesn’t do a good job at evoking any sense of nostalgia – which is the cheapest trick in the book, but it doesn’t even feel like it can pull that off. Mileage may vary, but for about 90% of the running time, I just sat in-front of my screen with a blank expression feeling completely empty aside from a sense of sadness that I wasn’t even remotely enjoying it. Sure, The Lion King remake isn’t very good – but there was at least, admittedly, some small joy in hearing those songs again or appreciating the visuals for the first few minutes before it all-blended together. These are such small compliments to give a bad film, but I do it so I can stress that I don’t even think Pinocchio reaches those very small levels of adequacy – it simply feels like a film made by a studio to ensure it will be able to consume as content one-day. It fails on so many basic levels, and it made me genuinely depressed to see how any other live-action adaptations they have cooking turn-out.
This isn’t necessarily the worst one they’ve done, but it might just be my personal least-favorite.