Splinter in the Mind’s Eye

Ugh. Meh. This writer is not nearly as happy as he should be on this Disney+ Day — which normally would be in early November, but if the acceleration of the day is any indication, the studio’s live-action remake of Pinocchio needed much more time in the shop, preferably in the formative stage. Long-gestating under a plethora of directors (Sam Mendes, Paul King, et cetera), each with as impressive a pedigree as the chosen director, Robert Zemeckis (the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Polar Express), it’s mind-boggling how the final result turned out so slipshod and blasé, especially when I was crying tears of joy from seeing the trailer.

The story is changed in all the wrong ways; we gain nothing from being told new facets of Gepetto (the immortal Tom Hanks, undoubtedly the best part of the film) and his past — the first rule of screenwriting is “show, don’t tell” for an awfully good reason — Honest John (Keegan Michael-Key, Key & Peele) is loquacious to the point of tiresome, and the new characters added give nothing to the story. It also feels wholly derivative of better Disney films — yes, films other than Pinocchio — there’s even a tear-healing scene torn straight from the pages of Tangled (…God, I’m glad that at least the days of verb titles are dead) and an action scene pinched from The Incredibles. Yeesh. The songs written by the otherwise immortal Alan Silvestri (Avengers: Endgame) and his frequent collaborator, Glen Ballard (Beowulf, A Christmas Carol) are half-baked and reek of Camp Broadway. Tack on an ending that feels like it was written last weekend and the end result is beneath sub-par.

As Disney live-action remakes go, this is not awful. I mean, it’s not the creme de la crap that was the high pandemic’s Mulan, nor is it as cloyingly condescending as 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (I know, my review gives a wholly other impression; I was wrong as can be) and certainly not as outright cynical as Tim Burton’s Dumbo. That being said, it doesn’t do anything as brilliantly different as Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, nor does it carve (heh heh) its own identity as David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon did, and it falls well short of being a tribute to the classic it inspired, like Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella or Charlie Bean’s Lady and the Tramp — it’s just kind of there. Walt Disney is dead in the corporeal sense, true enough, but his soul remains in cryostasis — the studio could melt our hearts with his vision if they’d only find the courage to turn on the heat.

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