Movie review: Disney’s latest live-action update, ‘Pinocchio,’ a mostly solid creation

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+.

Instead of Burton, we get another director with a lifetime of filmmaking behind him, Robert Zemeckis, whose fingerprints can be seen all over the movie, mostly but not always for the better.

With Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump,” “Cast Away” and “The Polar Express” star Tom Hanks around as woodcarver Geppetto, the new “Pinocchio” at times is every bit as charming and whimsical as you’d hope. At others, it suffers from leaning too much into spectacle, especially in the film’s second half, when “Pinocchio” can feel a bit hollow.

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 — voiced, unrecognizably, by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred for Zemeckis in 2015’s “The Walk” — 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.

It works.

The tiny vagabond has come to explore Geppetto’s home and workshop, the walls of which he finds to be blanketed in cuckoo clocks. A man comes hoping to buy a specific timekeeper but is turned away by the proprietor, who insists none of them is for sale.

“If you cannot sell your clocks,” the man asks, “why do you have a shop?”

“It’s complicated,” Geppetto tells him.

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 (Disney+ flick “Flora & Ulysses”), comes to life, first making the acquaintance of Jiminy and then encountering a special visitor, the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”). 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.

Along with performing a lovely rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” she tasks Jiminy with serving as Pinocchio’s “conscience” and conjures up some fancy new duds for him before going on her way.

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 (delightfully voiced by Keegan-Michael Key of “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”) and The Coachman (Luke Evans, “The Fate of the Furious”), 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.)

Fortunately, Pinocchio also makes genuine friends in characters who are new to this retelling of the classic tale, such as Sofia the Seagull (voiced by Lorraine Bracco of “Goodfellas” fame) and Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya, “The Dumping Ground”) and her marionette, Sabina (Jaquita Ta’le).

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.

Still, there is plenty to like, including four original songs penned by composer Alan Silvestri and songwriter-producer Glen Ballard. Fabiana’s number, “I Will Always Dance,” gives the movie a little juice in the middle act.

Ultimately, though, this “Pinocchio” is fairly similar to the 1940s version, which also is available via Disney+.

We’re expecting quite a different take on Carlo Collodi’s 1883 Italian children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio” when “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” — a stop-motion film co-directed by the filmmaker who’s given us “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water” and “Nightmare Alley” — hits Netflix in December.


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+