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Who doesn’t believe in transformative experiences?




So, Tom’s brother’s second starring role of 2022. Perhaps not coincidentally, he’s once again shrouded beneath hair and makeup, not that there haven’t been remarks about how gaunt he looks in “real” life. With his posthumous career, Hanks continues to make it clear just how much he adores children (see prior, presumed real-deal endeavours A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, News of the World, and you can even throw in Finch). Of course, his historic yen was very much based on their adrenochrome value. Such grimness isn’t wholly out of place in Pinocchio, always one of the most warped and remorseless of fairy tales. Which was probably why it was so dear to Walt’s heart (who was also, lest we forget, played by Hanks, in Saving Mr. Banks).

Hanks may have been soul scalped in the early part of the century, but it seems he was already an adrenochrome addict by that point. If his purported promise that he would never stop killing is accurate, that would be because those taken over by a Vril parasite crave adrenochrome themselves. Why perpetuate the façade of Hanks making movies – of Spielberg making an autobiographical tale! – at this point? Why crown a clone Charles king for that matter? Much of it is surely down to the catatonic shock many would experience (if they even believed), were the floodgates opened at once. One has to prioritise and deal with the prevailing/most pressing issues in a manner people can assimilate. The whats and whens of addressing the greater cosmic hoodwink are surely contingent on navigating this terrain successfully. And even then…

But Pinocchio. The terrifying 1978 BBC adaptation is the last word in the essential creepiness of the story for me, short of a forgotten Jan Svankmeijer production turning up (admittedly, it’s slightly less intimidating in the cold light of no longer being a six-year-old, albeit Pinocchio himself remains decidedly freakish). Consequently, I suspect it’s down to the tale’s inherently sinister nature that even this anaemic – is there any other Robert Zemeckis movie these days? – live-action Disney effort fitfully succeeded in holding my attention.

It isn’t so much the Disney spin on Pinocchio’s character arc, altogether mild in comparison to the Carlo Collodi original, which had him die horribly for his pathological misbehaviour before Collodi’s editor persuaded him to embark on revisions. Rather, it’s the various encounters and experiences that befall the wooden boy as he is led astray that exert a disquieting hold. Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) is an early harbinger, becoming exactly as unsettling as an anthropomorphised “live-action” fox would be (see also The Box of Delights).

Beyond that, the already insidious Pleasure Island takes on post-Epstein island ramifications. Lured there, Pinocchio is informed “Your conscience is the last thing you want to take to Pleasure Island”. There, minors are ritually corrupted, treated as (made into) animals. The line “You won’t be a puppet anymore, that’s for sure” drips with irony (since having the goods on those who visited Epstein’s getaway guaranteed they’d be exactly that). And most suggestively, Pinocchio is asked “Who doesn’t believe in transformative experiences?” Earlier, very tellingly, he is manipulated with the promise “Why, to be famous is to be real”.

The donkey transformations may not be as unsettling as they are in other iterations – doubtless del Toro’s will deliver on that score – but the point is clear; Pinocchio’s a particularly brutal, blunt-force instrument, one wielded to ensure any conscience-afflicted child will comply or else. To this end, Zemeckis has some especially unnerving, smog-infused henchmen with glowing red eyes patrolling the island, expressly designed to scare the bejesus out of you (It’s like the Montauk beast given form). Their master the Coachman (Luke Evans) is, naturally, up to his neck in child trafficking. Consequently, the pull back from this purgatory is rather too swift, almost as if realisation of just how dark it all is has dawned; Pinocchio manages to escape fairly effortlessly (his ability to turn himself into a human/puppet boat also rather unfortunately recalls the rather unfortunate Swiss Army Man’s final scene).

This is by far Pinocchio’s most successful section, then. It rather falters subsequently, as we reencounter Gepetto, lodged in Monstro the Sea Monster (complete with some surprisingly ropey process shots). Anything with Tom’s frère smacks of going through the motions, although Gepetto’s CGI cat Figaro is cute (don’t ask why CGI; it’s Zemeckis). Quite aside from his lead actor not being the genuine article, this is illustrative of the director having long-since lost interest in actual performers, still sulking because his motion-capture dreams caved in on themselves.

One might speculate whether this is that actual Zemeckis directing – à la Spielberg and The Fablemans – but he’s been so persuasively lacklustre for so many years, I could quite believe it. Basically, he’s now a jobbing hire for any old tat, speciality virtual environments. An Oscar winner who hasn’t had a hit in a decade and will likely take made-to-measure orders in creating artifice (if David Leitch is doing it, why not Bob?) The only surprise is that he’s still considered employable, especially after The Witches, when the likes of Rob Reiner and Barry Levinson have long-since been consigned to the scrapheap.

Zemeckis is notably entirely slavish to the animation’s aesthetic template, from Gepetto, to Pinocchio (in a manner that irks for its sheer laziness), to the sea monster. Jiminy Cricket is voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a manner that has you longing to step on him, so he’s pretty faithful in that sense. The songs are as remembered. There’s the occasional hint of meta (“Some storyteller you are”) and a frankly bizarre scene where Pinocchio investigates a steaming pile of shit. Of course, this is the same year as Turning Red, so impulses toward coprophilia in a Disney movie come as no surprise at all.

A significant departure is that Zemeckis doesn’t end on Pinocchio being turned into a real boy. Instead, Jiminy’s unable to vouch for this transpiring but says it’s no odds either way, as he’s real where it counts. Ambiguous, then, but entirely uplifting compared to Spielberg’s take on the story (A.I. Artificial Intelligence), which invites its own questions on the Kubrick-devised project. Such as just why parents would want a boy who’d never grow up.

What other amendments there are, inevitably, are ready evidence of the Disney woke implosion in full effect, which appears ordained to capsize the studio as justice for a near-century of untold crimes. Pinocchio is now all presentist and correct, as only the Mouse House can be. Obviously, if you are inclined in any way to notice this, you’re racist. I mean, it’s not as if they actually had ensouled puppets in the nineteenth century either, is it? Kyanne Lamaya plays new character Fabiana, who is both black and differently abled; had he been sufficiently alert to his representational failings, Collodi would surely have written her in to the original. Cynthia Erivo is The Blue Fairy (well, quite). A host of United Colours of Benetton children attend the local school (only wooden boys are discriminated against). After Lightyear crashing and burning, the Mouse House was wise to reserve this one for Disney+.

One might attest to the precedent, since the original made a loss for Disney before becoming a classic. Its legacy status was achieved through a combination of perseverance and applied brainwashing (Pinocchio was only his second feature animation, but he evidently knew precisely how to press himself onto young hearts and minds). Disney’s failures have done nothing to chasten its determination to spread the wokester cause; incoming are The Little Woke Mermaid, the little woke Snow White, and a diligently presentist Peter Pan & Wendy (all fairies are now officially black).

Among the live-action line up thus far, Pinocchio is far from the worst cash-grab offender – that’s probably the terminally dull Dumbo – while unsurprisingly failing to climb to the caustic heights of Cruella or even match Aladdin’s modest brio. Zemeckis has diligently followed the same redundantly verbatim template seen with Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book and The Lion King. There’s the occasional instance of visual flair, but you’re mostly left wondering, as before, how much of the movie, aside from Tom’s brother, was actually achieved physically in front of the camera. Ironically, Zemeckis already did a whole-hosts-of-weirdness (but also not that interestingly) puppet movie a few years back with Welcome to Marwen. Chalk up Pinocchio as a merely moderately disturbing fairy tale.

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