Following the introduction of the indeterminate intonations of his Col Tom Parker character in “Elvis,” Tom Hanks now goes Tuscan, continuing his exploration of world accents with “Pinocchio,” a live-action CGI hybrid musical, now streaming on Disney+.
Hanks is Geppetto, an Italian woodworker who carves a puppet named Pinocchio out of a block of white pine. The elderly, lonely man treats the marionette like a son, and lo-and-behold, after he wishes on a star, Pinocchio (voice of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), with a little help from The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo), comes to life.
But is he a real boy? Nope. “To be really real,” says the Fairy, “he must pass an ordeal. He must prove that he is brave, truthful and unselfish.
To point the puppet in the right direction, the Fairy appoints the wisecracking Jiminy Cricket (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to be his moral guide. It’s his job to teach the newbie right and wrong, to be his conscience. “Conscience,” he says, “is that little voice that most people choose not to listen to… and that’s what wrong with today.”
With good intentions and endless curiosity, the pair set off but are sidelined when Jiminy is imprisoned in a glass jar. Left to fend for himself, Pinocchio experiences the ups-and-downs of life as a puppet cut loose in the world. He first falls under the control of a cruel puppeteer named Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston), meets Lampwick (Lewin Lloyd), a mischievous boy with an eye for trouble, and even gets eaten by a sea monster called Monstro the Whale.
Pinocchio is getting loads of life lessons, but is he learning life’s most important lesson? “The most important part of being real, isn’t what you’re made of,” said the Blue Fairy. “It’s about what’s in your heart.”
“Pinocchio,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, is a respectful retelling of Disney’s 1940 animated classic. The edgy details from that movie and the 1883 book by Carlo Collodi have been smoothed over—Pinocchio does not, for instance, smoke a cigar in this version—but visually, Zemeckis takes his lead from the classic Walt Disney Animation style. From the puppet’s yellow hat, blue tie and red lederhosen, this Pinocchio is strictly traditional.
It’s a vibrantly colored romp, an action adventure that, despite the up-to-the-minute technology involved, feels old fashioned, dare I say wooden, in its approach. Good messages about the importance of family and learning from your mistakes abound, the peril is kept to a family-friendly minimum and, like its main character, the movie is just a little naïve.
Following in the footsteps of other Disney live-action remakes like “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book,” the latest version of “Pinocchio” adds new technology to the story, but no new ideas.