Robert Zemeckis is adapting the 1940 animated classic into a half-live, half-3D animated TV movie. For a nice result, which however does not come close to its elder.
Why persist in redoing live, and often less well, (masterpieces), which have filled decades of spectators? From the box full ofAlice in Wonderlandby Tim Burton, billionaire at the box office 12 years ago, Disney pushes us to ask ourselves this question regularly, drawing from its catalog, indeed unrivaled in terms of great classics, to transform them into live action adaptations. Maleficent, The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Dumbo, Cruella… several cartoons have already inspired this type of production, and it was only a matter of time before Pinocchio (1940) is one day transformed into “true” film. Finally, telefilm, since the project was immediately announced to expand the catalog of Disney +, the streaming platform launched in 2019, and was therefore not intended for cinema.
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So here is the puppet again who dreams of becoming a real little boy, coming back to life before our eyes, in virtual animation, this time, surrounded by characters created and animated like him in CGI, but also real actors. Tom Hanks plays his dad Geppetto, Cynthia Erivo is the new Blue Fairy, Luke Evans (already in the costume of the brilliant Gaston from The beauty and the Beast) embodies the evil Coachman…
First surprise: to direct this live version of Pinocchiowe find Robert Zemeckis. Allergic to any form of remake/reinvention of his own classic, the trilogy Back to the futurethe filmmaker is therefore in charge of impressing us with this film which logically requires a certain mastery of the visual effects, but also of the staging, a handful of passages from the original Pinocchio being particularly striking: when the little hero takes life, when his young buddy is turned into a donkey (a sequence inspired by old-school horror films, for example the shadow games of Nosferatu) or the grand finale with Monstro. It is also an opportunity for the filmmaker to find Tom Hanks. He who contributed to forging his image as “Mister everyone” American thanks to Forrest Gump, Alone in the World Where The Polar Express, can here film it nicer than ever. After playing Walt Disney in person in another film, this time inspired by a half-live, half-animated classic, Mary Poppinsthe star of In Mary’s shadow (2013) therefore returns to embody one of the studio’s most popular characters.
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Verdict? Mixed. Zemeckis actually masters certain effects to perfection, Jiminy Cricket, the narrator of the story transformed into Pinocchio’s consciousness, being notably perfectly recreated. On the other hand, when his characters are drawn from more realistic creatures, the result is sometimes disturbing. Like the tiny cat Figaro, whose every appearance falls into the“uncanny valley”. The final sequence is also a disappointment on this point, with its poorly visible/poorly polished effects in the darkness of the whale’s mouth.
It’s all the more unfortunate that the director often manages to have fun with his model by slipping in a few nods to his own film (Bonzour, Roger Rabbit!), to that of his favorite actor (Tom Hanks is also the famous original voice of Woody in the Toy Story) or some funny finds: did you know that when Pinocchio’s face deforms behind a fishbowl, he looks like Flounder?
Beyond these little touches of humour, the mission of Zemeckis and his screenwriter Chris Weitz (Ant, For a Boy, Rogue One…) is obviously to modernize the cartoon. With a work from 1940, the task turns out to be important: the policy of “zero cigarettes” of the new family productions of Disney imposes drastic modifications. The violence of the villains towards the wooden boy is toned down (the Coachman becomes more grotesque, for example), but at the same time, a cruel scene at school is added. The solitary life of Geppetto is explained. The little hero is also more autonomous than his model, the Blue Fairy no longer intervening in the famous sequence of the nose which lengthens when he lies. A script pirouette which strangely recalls Shrek 2 (2004), a surprising way to close the loop with parody, while recalling the important influence of Pinocchio in the collective unconscious! The addition of a new heroine, very cute and always ready to help Pinocchio with his puppeteer, a young disabled girl, is also a nice find. Finally, the duo takes care to link all the elements of the plot together, because in the oldest Disney cartoons, the story was sometimes disjointed, made up of sketches with little connection between them.
Excerpt from Pinocchio, by Robert Zemeckis: the famous nose scene has changed a lot
Taking liberties -but not too much- with its model and offering some new features to surprise the public, this new Pinocchio is ultimately not unpleasant to watch, with family, on his sofa. Will it become as cult as the 1940 version? No chance: we’ll always be haunted by the animated classic’s unfortunate donkeys left to fend for themselves, and the incredible animation of the waves surrounding Monstro. On the other hand, if you want to see an adaptation of Pinocchio which moves away from the version that we all have in mind, Guillermo del Toro is preparing his own, in stop motion, for Netflix. His version will even free himself from the original novel by Carlo Collodi by transposing his story under the dictatorship of Mussolini. And if that was, basically, the key to a good adaptation of a classic? To move away enough from its model to tell something else, to bring something more? The studio has already proven that it is possible, in 2014, with Maleficenta film very different from The Sleeping Beauty (1959) and interesting in its approach to the figure of its great villain, brilliantly embodied by Angelina Jolie. With Pinocchio, where it is only a question of links (to weave, to cut…), one could hope for an additional reflection? Never mind. Maybe it will be for the next live adaptation? David Lowery (Peter and Elliott the dragon) is currently preparing an adaptation of Peter Pan (1953). A cartoon also rich in strong themes… so who knows?
Pinocchioby Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo and Luke Evans, premieres on Disney+ on September 28, 2022.