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"PINOCCHIO"
(2022) (Tom Hanks, voice of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy: After being brought to life by a wish, a wooden puppet tries to become a real boy.
PLOT:

Geppetto (TOM HANKS) is a widowed Italian woodcarver and clockmaker who misses both his wife and their young son, both of whom have passed on. With just his pet cat and goldfish to keep him company, Geppetto carves a wooden marionette and calls it Pinocchio.

But when he wishes upon a star to have a real son, The Blue Fairy (CYNTHIA ERIVO) shows up in the middle of the night and animates the puppet (voice of BENJAMIN EVAN AINSWORTH). That is witnessed by Jiminy Cricket (voice of JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT) who's then tasked with being Pinocchio's conscience and calls upon local seagull Sofia (voice of LORRAINE BRACCO) to help him keep dibs on the puppet.

But con-fox Honest John (voice of KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY) and his feline accomplice Gideon fool Geppetto into trusting them when, in reality, they sell him to cruel circus owner Stromboli (GIUSEPPE BATTISTON). One of his employees, Fabiana (KYANNE LAMAYA), befriends Pinocchio through her marionette, with him eventually escaping, only to fall into the company of a juvenile delinquent, Lampwick (LEWIN LLOYD).

He's accompanying other kids to Pleasure Island, unaware of what its operator, The Coachman (LUKE EVANS), has in store for them. As Geppetto frantically searches for his "son," Pinocchio must contend with the pitfalls related to his dream of becoming a real boy if he can prove he's true, brave, and unselfish.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10

When you wish upon a star
Make a great movie, and it will go far
But if it's flat and things seem dire
Bad reviews will come to you

Once upon a time, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis was the go-to director for using cutting-edge technology to help build and tell incredibly engaging cinematic stories. From "Back to the Future" to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "Forrest Gump" and "Contact," he could be counted on to deliver must-see films featuring cool new effects.

But after making another film with Tom Hanks ("Castaway"), he went off the rails with "The Polar Express" where the technology ended up being creepy which also bedeviled tech-heavy follow-ups including "Beowulf," "A Christmas Carol" and "Welcome to Marwen."

Zemeckis' latest -- a live-action remake of Disney's classic "Pinocchio" -- might be a tad less creepy but it's still an oddly inert, bland, and uneven misfire. While it's nowhere as nails down the chalkboard excruciatingly bad as Roberto Benigni's live-action version of the story of a puppet who wishes to be a boy, it simply isn't that good.

Part of that stems from trying to be too cutesy with small Easter egg details and contemporary jokes including a bevy of Disney and Pixar characters ever-so-briefly seen as figurines in a wall of cuckoo clocks (where's Doc Brown when we need him) to jokes about Chris Pine (what with the title character being made out of...you guessed it).

But most everything feels off about the film that rushes through the plot trappings of the original -- with some alterations here and there courtesy of the script by Zemeckis and Chris Weitz and Simon Farnaby. It ends up feeling episodic and extremely disjointed rather than coming off like a cohesive journey where the plot builds on every subsequent story element and detail.

Hanks returns once again to the Zemeckis fold playing the lonely toymaker Geppetto whose desire for a boy of his own is briefly touched upon via comments about past loss. He's built a wooden marionette that he names Pinocchio and thanks to Cynthia Erivo showing up overnight as the Blue Fairy to grant the old man's wish, the puppet comes to life.

That's witnessed by our occasional narrator, Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who ends up being tasked with serving as the would-be boy's conscience and must help the puppet prove he's true, brave, and unselfish enough to warrant becoming a real-life boy.

Unfortunately, that ends up derailed when Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) and his silent feline sidekick gain Pinocchio's trust and deliver him to cruel circus master Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston). He views the puppet as his star attraction but keeps him locked in a birdcage when not on stage, with the puppet's only comfort coming from another performer (Kyanne Lamaya) and her marionette.

But it's not long before Pinocchio ends up drawn in by a wayward boy (Lewin Lloyd) who has him join him and other juvenile delinquents as they are about to make jackasses out of themselves -- in more ways than one -- for the owner of Pleasure Island (Luke Evans). Pinocchio escapes that, only to discover that Geppetto has gone out searching for him, all of which results in a perilous encounter with a monster whale.

At no point did I care about any of this, and at first I attributed it to being tired -- and at times nearly dozing off -- while I watched the events unfold over the course of 105 minutes. But then I heard from other reviewers who reacted the same way, thus assuring me that I didn't somehow miss the emotional connection.

With uneven special effects (Pinocchio looks great, but other bits such as Geppetto's pet cat never look real), a complete waste of Hanks' evergreen charisma, and a storytelling approach that's fragmented and less than engaging, this version of "Pinocchio" feels wooden. And it unfortunately continues Zemeckis' disappointing trend of less than stellar, special effects heavy tales of which he was once the undisputed master. The film rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Posted September 9, 2022


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