One thing you can count on these days is not having to wait too long between Disney live-action remakes of its own animated favorites, with recent years giving us fancy new versions of, among others, “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Mulan” and “Dumbo.”
It is the latter — director Tim Burton’s uneven 2019 update of the 1941 classic — that most comes to mind when thinking about Disney’s new take on “Pinocchio,” a blend of live-action and computer-generated imagery that debuts this week on streaming platform Disney+.
Although sparking-new, “Pinocchio” attempts to sweep us up with old-timey vibes from the very start, as we meet the new version of Jiminy Cricket floating down via his umbrella with the Disney castle behind him and the melody to one of the 1940 movie’s synonymous songs, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” playing softly.
Geppetto lives with his fish, Cleo, and cat, Figaro, but he obviously is lonely. The clocks connect to a great loss he has suffered, and a project in which he is currently engaged ties to another.
He is finishing a marionette he will come to name “Pinocchio,” as he is made of pine — and because “Chris Pine” doesn’t feel quite right. Before turning in for the night, Geppetto does, in fact, wish upon a star, and as he sleeps Pinocchio comes to life.
The wooden boy, voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, comes to life, first making the acquaintance of Jiminy and then encountering a special visitor, the Blue Fairy. Pinocchio would love to become a real boy, which he believes would greatly please his father, and the Blue Fairy tells him to do that, he must learn to be brave, truthful and unselfish — and to choose correctly between right and wrong.
In the morning, Geppetto is delighted that his creation can walk and talk and insists he go to school with other children.
And so begins an adventure in which Pinocchio will encounter untrustworthy strangers, most notably con artist “Honest” John and The Coachman, who attempts to lure Pinocchio, along with other children, to a supposedly wonderful place called Pleasure Island. (By the way, the sequence set at Pleasure Island could prove to be a tad scary at moments for the littlest ones in the house.)
Along a journey that ultimately will bring him back to Geppetto for one final Monstro-ous ordeal, Pinocchio will learn many lessons, including how to deal with peer pressure. (Also, kids, don’t tell a lie or your nose may become problematically elongated.)
For all it has going for it — solid performances across the board and generally strong visuals — “Pinocchio” lacks a little bit of that Disney magic. While it’s a pretty big affair for the big screens of today’s living rooms, you can understand the decision not to release it in theaters. It’s just not quite THAT big.
In fact, we wish it were a tad smaller, with more space carved out for additional time shared by Geppetto and his son. A little more Hanks may have gone a long way here.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPAA rating: PG (for peril/scary moments, rude material and some language)
Running time: 1:51
How to watch: Disney+