Review: Disney’s update of ‘Pinocchio’

Tom Hanks and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth in Pinocchio (Disney)

I tuned into Disney Plus to watch the streamer’s remake of “Pinocchio” rather cynically.

I recognize the original 1940 animated classic is a masterpiece, but if I’m honest, it was never one of my favorite Disney animated movies.

While I saw many clips of the film on the TV show “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a kid, I did not view the entire movie until taking my niece and nephew to see it during one its many re-releases to theaters in the late 1980s. I had a better time experiencing their enjoyment of the movie than from watching it myself.

I wasn’t sure what a remake would have to offer me. So, while I tuned in a bit jaded, the new version charmed me pretty quickly.

Combining live action with CGI animation, the film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is a gorgeous production and nearly seamless in its execution. The live actors mix with the CGI-animated creations as well as any movie I’ve seen.

It might help that Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, and other anthropomorphic characters aren’t intended to look realistic, but nevertheless their interactions with Tom Hanks, who plays, the elderly woodcarver who made the titular living puppet; Sheila Atim as puppeteer Signor Vitelli, Guiseppe Battison as circus owner Stromboli, and Luke Evans as the almost demonic Coachman of Pleasure Island are convincing within the confines of the fantasy.

The character design for the living puppet Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is straight from the 1940s Disney animation. Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Giuseppebit different as is Cleo the Goldfish, but Figaro the cat and the fox Honest John (voiced wonderfully by Keegan Michael Key) looks straight from the original, too.

Tom Hanks in Pinocchio (Disney)

The story is also very similar to the original with just a few changes. For instance, The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) sings “When You Wish Upon a Star” instead of Jiminy Cricket as in the original. It’s a wonderful rendition of the song that also closes the film. Erivo is truly enchanting as the rhyming fairy, who turns Geppeto’s creation into a living puppet.

She explains to Pinocchio that for him to become a real boy, he has to be brave, truthful, and unselfish. She adds that learning the difference between right and wrong and developing a strong conscience is the key. Jiminy defines the conscience as “the still, small inner voice that few listen to.”

The cinematography by Don Burgess and the production design of Doug Chiang and Stefan Dechant stand out from Geppeto’s warm, cozy workshop cottage to the hellish landscape of Pleasure Island, where kids are tempted by a carnival-like atmosphere only to be morphed into donkeys.

As in the original, Pinocchio is key in saving Geppeto, Jiminy, Cleo and Figaro the kitty from the gigantic sea monster Monstro after spending some time in the beast’s gullet.

Will this version of Pinocchio be hailed a classic like the 1940 original?

I doubt it, but nevertheless, it’s a solid film for families to kick back and enjoy.

(PG) 1 hr. 45 min.
Grade: B-

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Classic Corner: TCM salutes original scream queen Fay Wray

Leslie Banks, Noble Johnson, Joel McCrea, and Fay Wray in The Most Dangerous Game(RKO Radio Pictures)

Turner Classic Movies presents a sort of prelude to the spooky holiday of Halloween on Thursday, Sept. 15 by presenting a mini-marathon of the films of the original scream queen Fay Wray.

Wray, of course, played the beauty to King Kong’s beast in the original 1933 version, but it wasn’t her only thriller/horror movie of the period. She appeared in four other creepy classics from 1932-33, including an excellent adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game” and of course “King Kong,” one of the best horror/adventure films of all time.

TCM is running all five of these movies Thursday. Here’s the lineup:

  • Doctor X (1932) — 6:30 a.m.
  • The Most Dangerous Game (1932) — 8 a.m.
  • King Kong (1933) — 9:15 a.m.
  • Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) — 11:15 a.m.
  • The Vampire Bat (1933) — 12:45 p.m.

The Most Dangerous Game

“The Most Dangerous Game” has been adapted on film and TV dozens of times, but this version is perhaps the best. The basic premise is that bored, aristocratic hunter Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) hunts men for sport.

Zaroff inhabits a jungle island near a channel in South America where he has rigged a trap for yachts seeking to pass through the channel at night. When the boats are grounded, he kidnaps survivors and forces them to play his real-life game of chess, except Zaroff arms himself with guns and only gives his prey a knife.

So far, Zaroff has never lost his deadly game, and he keeps the heads of his prey on display in his trophy room.

This time, though, Zaroff’s prey just happens to be big-game hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea), who survived the grounding of a yacht along with Eve (Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong).

Zaroff hunts and kills Martin off screen, but when Bob and Eve discover him with Martin’s dead body, Zaroff finally explains the game to them and gives the two a hunting knife and several hours head start. If Bob and Eve can stay alive until 4 a.m., they win the game. Otherwise, more heads for Zaroff’s trophy room.

The film is creepy and builds tension right up to the climax. Banks’ Zaroff comes off cartoonishly to a modern audience, but hey, that’s part of the fun. McCrea is sturdy as Bob and Wray is fine in one of her many damsel in distress roles.

Interestingly enough, RKO Radio Pictures filmed the movie at night on the same sets where the studio was filming “King Kong,” which, of course, also featured Wray and Armstrong in key roles.

King Kong

Billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World, “King Kong” shocked and awed audiences when it was released in 1933 with its revolutionary special effects provided by the master of stop-motion animation Willis O’Brien.

Though special effects have traveled light years since Kong first thrilled audiences 89 years ago, O’Brien’s effects still stand out with their inventiveness and flare.

Critics still view the pre-code film directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack as one of the best and most significant horror films of all time. “King Kong” still ranks as high as seventh on Rotten Tomatoe’s all-time horror movie list, just below No. 6 “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) and above No. 8 “Psycho” (1960).