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The Independent Critic

Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (Voice), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Voice), Keegan-Michael Key (Voice), Lorraine Bracco (Voice), Luke Evans, Giuseppe Battiston
Robert Zemeckis
Robert Zemeckis, Chris Weitz, Carlo Collodi
Rated PG
111 Mins.

 "Pinocchio" a Familiar, Engaging Remake 
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If you were to make your way over to Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic about now, you'd undeniably come face-to-face with the rather modest ratings for Disney's latest live-action/hybrid remake - the iconic 1940 Disney classic Pinocchio. A rather simple folktale fantastic with hints of the sinister surrounding it, the original Pinocchio captured the imagination of moviegoers and has, I believe it's fair to say, become part of the heart and soul of Disney.

So, of course, it would eventually warrant a remake. 

This understandably raised concerns among Disney purists. These concerns were amplified by the fact that these live-action/hybride remakes have, at least thus far, been for the most part a tad underwhelming. 

Into this challenge enters Tom Hanks, a now 66-year-old Hollywood icon who is both one of Hollywood's most acclaimed actors and almost universally recognized as one of its friendliest. 

It seems as if Hanks has suddenly entered the "But, is he really that good?" phase of his career. 

In case you're wondering, yes he really is that good. 

This go-round with Pinocchio is directed by Robert Zemeckis, no stranger to animation, and stars Hanks as the Italian woodcarver Geppetto. And yes, it's true that Hanks, for whom accents have never been a particular strong point, has tackled two rather strong ones in one year (the other being in Elvis) with decidedly mixed results. He lives in a rather cramped little workshop alongside his cat Figaro and goldfish Cleo, both animated delightfully here in a home I'd be perfectly happy to call my own. Geppetto seems to keep mostly to himself, the clocks that adorn his wall precious memories of a loss we begin to understand over time. 

The clocks? Well, I admittedly laughed out loud as we became introduced to them but I'll also admit this is a Disneyesque touch I could have easily done with out. Enough said about that. 

While Hanks may not have nailed Geppetto's accent, he most certainly embodies the heart and soul of this elderly man pining away for his son and who creates, in his grief, this being of sorts he calls Pinocchio. As voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, at least after a visit by Cynthia Erivo's lovely Blue Fairy who gifts us with a magnificent version of the iconic When You Wish Upon a Star, Pinocchio is a simple yet magnificent creation who quickly longs to become a real boy. 

If our dear Pinocchio can prove himself to be a brave, truthful, and unselfish lad who learns the difference between right and wrong then he will, in fact, become a real boy. If he lies? Well, I think we all know what happens. The Blue Fairy appoints Jiminy Cricket, voiced sublimely by Joseph-Gordon Levitt, to be Pinocchio's conscience. 

That's no easy task. 

The trouble begins as Pinocchio sets out on his first day of school. Adventure awaits this pinehearted lad and these adventures are complicated by Jiminy Cricket's oversleeping and those who would exploit him for their own gain including Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key), the even more dastardly Stromboli (Giuseppe Battiston), and Luke Evans's Coachman, whose journey to the dazzling Pleasure Island offers up one seriously immersive amusement park for kids that I never want to visit. 

The narrative arc here is already thin and taking it from its original 88-minute running time to a now overly stretched 111-minutes is a little misguided even with the addition of four new engaging original tunes. However, despite the still present traumatic memories of the now beloved holiday classic The Polar Express, Zemeckis has become a master at bringing animated storytelling to life and this is very much a film that feels like 3-D even within the confines from home viewing. 

The truth is that I was immersed in this world from beginning to end and I wasn't particularly happy when I had to leave it, though I must say that this ending really resonates emotionally and visually. 

While folks are hit-and-miss with the vocal work by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy Cricket, I found it fully engaging and among the year's finest vocal performances. CGI Figaro and Chloe are absolutely delightful and Pleasure Island has an almost Wonkaesque quality to it that is both wondrous and a little horrifying. Cynthia Erivo's performance is far too brief, though her version of When You Wish Upon a Star is one for the ages. 

Forget the haters. I honestly loved Pinocchio from beginning to end. 

While it's more than a little sad to see Pinocchio, a well-budgeted feature, relegated to streaming on Disney+, this is most certainly a film that will play well on both a big screen and your home television or computer monitor. 

While Pinocchio may not have a whole lot new to say, what it says it says with a sparkle in its cinematic eye and a glow within its heart. For Disney+ members, Pinocchio is a terrific way to introduce your own kids to a story that I dare say will always resonate with its very heart and soul.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic