Review – Geppetto Gets Splinters (“Pinocchio”)

There have been tons of remakes, reboots, and reimaginings of Pinocchio this decade alone! And I’m counting Guillermo DelToro’s stop-motion version coming out in December. Too bad Italian author Carlo Collodi isn’t around to collect on the residuals!  

In yet another classic-Disney-animated-feature-turned-into-a-live-action-film from the House of Mouse (and there’s lots more to come, too!), we have their 1940 masterpiece, Pinocchio, being given the live-action treatment, as they did with Aladdin, Mulan, The Jungle Book, Dumbo, The Lion King, etc. Why? Chang-ching! That’s why! Yes, it’s another blatant corporate cash-grab from Disney, but this time being shown only their Disney+ streaming service. Hmmm. . . I wonder why. With a screenplay by director Robert Zemeckis (the Back to the Future franchise) and Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass), this is similar to Disney’s 2019’s Lion King. It’s almost a shot-for-shot remake of the same 1940 animated film using CGI and live-action, but taking odd liberties with the story. Yeah, Zemeckis went and did that. Ugh!

The movie plot is pretty much the same as the classic 1940 film, but with many noticeable changes that do not help the story. You have the narrator, Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shacking up inside Geppeto’s (Tom Hanks) workshop where he sees him make a wooden puppet and name him Pinocchio, which later comes to life thanks to the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo). Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) then tries to go to school, but runs afoul of two con-men – the fast-talking Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) and his put-upon mute feline partner, Gideon. Both are CGI characters, btw.

Anyway, they talk Pinocchio into joining evil Stromboli’s (Guiseppe Battison) traveling puppet show, where Pinocchio meets a disabled teen worker named Vitelli (Sheila Atim), who is being held under Stromboli’s fearsome grip. After escaping, thanks to Jiminy, Pinocchio is immediately whisked away to Pleasure Island, a place where children can run amok. He meets the fun-loving Lampwick (Lewin Lloyd) and gets changed into a donkey, almost getting snatched up by weird smoke demons. Looking for his dad, Pinocchio & Jiminy meet Vitelli later, who has somehow escaped. Seeking Geppeto in the sea, Pinocchio and his dad are swallowed by Monstro, the half-whale/half squid.

Yeah, this is one strange version of Pinocchio, and I’m not talking about the real story by Collodi, which is even weirder. At least with the remakes of The Jungle Book, Aladdin, and The Lion King, there was some semblance of a coherent story, but this retelling is all over the map. I’m a huge fan of Disney’s 1940 Pinocchio and I shook my head in disbelief at how Zemeckis and Weitz ruined this movie with utterly bad choices. Examples: nearly all the clocks in Gepetto’s are Disney/Pixar characters, two classic original songs are gone and replaced with hip-hop new ones that suck. Vitelli is a tacked-on character who adds nothing to the plot. The Blue Fairy only appears once! The ending is hopelessly trite and dull.

I will give points to the CGI. At least Pinocchio, rendered to look like the 1940 animated character, looks believable, as well as Honest John and others. And the vocal talent is quite good. Keegan-Michael Key rips into his Honest John with no-holds-barred veracity, which is the best part of this film. Hanks (with a floating accent) is credible and Erivo (despite all the controversy) makes her small cameo work with aplomb. All in all, this is just a sorry excuse for a remake that should not have been remade. You want a remake? Wait until December and catch Guillermo DelToro’s stop-motion Pinocchio, based on Collodi’s book. $20 says it’ll make bank over this!

**Now streaming exclusively on Disney+

Geppetto (2000) 

Instead of reviewing/comparing another Pinocchio movie (and believe me, there are lots to choose from), I decided on this! A musical version, but from Geppetto’s POV, written by Steven Schwartz of Godspell and Wicked fame. And yeah, it’s really good!

Originally meant for a Julie Andrews & Dick Van Dyke reunion, this stellar cast includes a who’s who of TV stars like Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Julia Louis-Dryfus, Brent Spiner, and Rene Auberjonois. This movie takes the original Disney 1940 animated classic and twists it into a fun, tongue-in-cheek musical romp, starting in the Italian town of Villagio where no one speaks or has a trace of an Italian accent, except for Stromboli’s (Spiner) fake one! Anyway, Geppetto’s (Carey) toy shop is finally ready to open and it’s a big deal. I mean, a really big deal! All the unruly, nasty kids there demand toys like a whiny, screaming herd of Veruca Salt’s. Yikes! Unfazed, Geppetto still desperately wishes for his wooden puppet, Pinocchio, to be his real son.

The Blue Fairy (Louis-Dryfus) obliges, and Pinocchio (Seth Adkins) becomes real, but Geppeto isn’t prepared for a son who is an undisciplined, precocious brat. Upset at his new dad, Pinocchio runs away to Stromboli’s for adventure but wishes he hadn’t, as the guy is an unhinged lunatic who occasionally speaks through his hand puppet. Escaping his clutches, Pinocchio hitches a ride to Pleasure Island where all insane children go for unbridled fun, run by the singing Ringmaster (Usher). Meanwhile, Geppetto, having second thoughts, goes after his son. He gets occasional sarcastic help from the Blue Fairy, a chance meeting with a lousy traveling magician (Brady in a short cameo), and visits a creepy Stepford Wives town, where Professor Buonragazzo (Auberjonois) and his young son make perfect children. . . to order!

Finally, Geppetto finds his son at Pleasure Island, but Pinocchio soon gets turned into a donkey, and you know the rest (Monstro the whale, anyone?). The ending, while still having Pinocchio become a real boy, is still different enough to be enjoyed. Writer David I. Stern (Free Birds, Mozart in the Jungle) took the Collodi/Disney stories and spun them into a fast-paced, silly, kid-friendly, almost Willy Wonka-esque plot, complete with Steven Schwartz’s catchy tunes.

Okay, so there’s no Honest John & Kitty Kat, but Carey is believable as Geppetto and plays it like a real father having a son, not cartoonish or over-the-top, which is solely reserved for Spiner! His Stromboli hilariously steals the show every time with his delicious scenery-chewing. And the man can sing, too! Y’know, it’s funny, but as good as this movie is, the stage version (My Son Pinocchio, Jr.) is just awful. Somehow the film-to-stage adaptation didn’t translate at all, as I’ve seen with other film-to-stage adaptations that did. Oh well, stick to this version and have a great time! Although produced by Disney, it’s not on their streaming channel for some odd reason. You can, however, see it for free on YouTube!

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