The new take on the beloved tale is an unmitigated fiasco despite the great Robert Zemeckis at the helm

If one thing marks the vast majority of live-action adaptations (a misconception when it just means using the highly questionable CGI) of Disney classics, it is their disturbing soullessness. They’re all based on fabulous tales – ones that are key to understanding many things in classical narrative – but end up dull and awkward due to an insistence on retelling them without breathing new life into them. It’s as if the makers think the iconographic power of the plot and characters is alone enough, so they limit themselves to a mere facelift that does no more than to erode all dramatic credibility. Now they’ve had some lackluster and mediocre remakes, but with Pinocchio they have truly hit rock bottom.

It’s particularly a shame in this case because it is directed by Robert Zemeckis, boasts an actor as great as Tom Hanks, and features professionals as reliable as the composer Alan Silvestri. But seldom has such a host of talents been so squandered and so incapable of saving the day. After an opening sequence in which Zemeckis and his team seem to want to play with a certain metalanguage and modernize some aspects of the story (it’s just five minutes, but it’s tangible), what follows is an unmitigated fiasco in which the technology engulfs any emotion, and the character development is sketchy. It’s like a badly colored illustrated story in which everything that takes place is but a poorly hatched concept that should never have been depicted in such a way. Disney’s “remakes” not only mar the company’s legacy, but they also taint the image of narratives that deserve much more respect.

Pinocchio is riddled with failings. The first is an obsession with believing that technology can compensate for the weakness of a screenplay written on autopilot. Yes, the visual impact is (or aims to be) spectacular, but that doesn’t stop it from being an awful, erratic film full of moments in which the characters move around in the frame for nil dramatic impact. Then there is the almost willful wasting of each and every one of the ideas of the original story. A good example of this is the amusement park scene, which in the 1940 version was terrifying but here seems to have been stripped of all such ambience. You never become emotionally invested with the protagonist because his journey lacks the substance needed to make you hope for his salvation. He may say he wants to be a real boy and find his place in the world, but you never believe him enough to get swept up in his adventure. As much as Zemeckis talks about magic, here it is conspicuous by its absence. In an era of simulations and virtual worlds, a new take on Pinocchio wasn’t a bad idea because, after all, it has always been an excellent metaphor for humanity’s quest in a seemingly intolerant and inhospitable world. But in the end, the film emerges as the equivalent of a sinister version of its own main character – one that desperately searches for a heart, but never finds it, and that doesn’t even know what its purpose is. At this point, Disney must have realized that something is going wrong when all their “remakes” make audience yearn for the original.

Pep Prieto
Pep Prieto. Journalist and writer. Series critic on ‘El Món a RAC1’ and for the program ‘Àrtic’ on Betevé. Author of the essay ‘Al filo del mañana’, about time-travelling cinema, and ‘Poder absoluto’, about cinema and politics.