Sunday, November 6, 2022

Pinocchio (2022).

This shouldn't take long.  At least I can't see that there's any reason to waste much time on a subject like this.  Part of the reason for thinking so is because we're dealing with a topic that has been explored (some would even say done to death) by a lot of others who have better patience in dealing with this than me.  By now, I'm sure most of us are familiar with whatever in hell the Disney Company thinks its doing with its seemingly endless series of live-action remakes of its entire animated film catalogue.  Like everyone else here, I haven't got a clue as to why they would feel the need to do any of this.  Also, like a lot of others, I do occasionally wonder just what this odd, downward streak says about the studio's ability to make good art in the coming years.  

Right now, it's like they seem committed to charting a course on the fastest downward slope they can manage to find.  It's puzzling, because that is the last thing to do if you want to be a success in showbiz.  I don't have any good explanation for this.  All I know is that the latest live-action offering is a remake of one of the studios trademarks films.  This is one that really helped put Walt and his animators on the map way back in the day.  It's gone on to be classic, which makes what the studio is doing to it now, after all these years, all the more of an annoying head-scratcher.  And so it goes.  If there's any upshot to a film like this, then maybe it's this.  What we're dealing with is a product that is very easily disposable.  If it's small comfort for change, at least no one has to lose any sleep over it.  

Conclusion: One of the Most Pointless Efforts of All Time.

The plot of the live-action remake features the same, basic outline as its 1940 original.  Like that film, the plot centers on the misadventures and struggles of a puppet (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) brought to life.  He's the product of careful and painstaking work by a local woodcarver, played in this version by Tom Hanks.  When he's brought to life, Pinocchio is told by the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) that he has the opportunity to become a real boy.  Just like his animated counterpart, however, in order to achieve this goal, he'll have to undergo what amounts to an endurance test of character and stamina.  In the original film, what happens next could almost be described as a modern day riff on the medieval morality play.  In both animated feature and the original book, the challenges that Pinocchio faces in his journey towards reality, or an actual, livable, human life, come off as an updated form of the Pilgrim's Progress trope.  The kind of otherworldly quests that can be found in ancient manuscripts such as Piers Plowman, or Gawain and the Green Knight.  Both the original novel, and hence Walt's film, seem to wind up drawing very deliberately from the same story barrel of allegorical fabeling.  Disney's skill as a modern storyteller seems to be what allowed him to take all this material and churn out a masterpiece.

The sad part is that none of these skills, or much in the way of any artistry for that matter, is on display in this live action remake.  It's kind of easy to get the sense you might be in trouble when the movie feels the need to interrupt its own logo by having a bad CGI version of Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) come sailing down while reciting a very lackluster version of the Company's Wish Upon a Star theme song.  In the 1940 feature, that song comes off carrying this strange, cozy yet somehow mythical quality.  Even if you've never read an epic poem in your life, that song helps give off the idea that what you are about to see could have been torn out of the pages of some forgotten legend of old.  It's an idea that the cartoon manages to substantiate through the genuine art of its visuals.  It looks and sounds as if we've entered an actual storybook, and Walt takes special care in these early moments to let the viewers get immersed in this new-familiar setting.  Doing so allows Gepetto's workshop to take up a permanent place in the viewer's mind.  It's all laid out in such a way as to give us a clear sense of the secondary world we are about to inhabit.  The live action version is another issue, and not in a good way, either.

Far from giving us a sense of epic scope, the first few moments of the film give off this disjointed, cheap quality.  It's like the story itself is hoping to go in one direction, while the visual keep tugging in the opposite.  It creates this unflattering case of cognitive dissonance that serves to put the audience at an immediate remove from the action right at the start.  Now, to be fair, I can think of times when its good for a film to create a proper sense of distance in the viewers, but this is just so that they can achieve a proper frame of reference and even contemplation in connection with what's happening on the screen.  Films like Selma, Mississippi Burning, and Black Klansman are able to achieve this pause of contemplation with skill and ease.  The trouble is the live-action version wants us to take a flight of fantasy, and yet it keeps making creative choices that somehow jar us back to reality without ever really being able to take the audience anywhere.  I'm not even talking about the visuals now, but the writing.

This is a movie composed of some of the oddest, confusing and pointless story beats that I've ever watched or heard of.  It's as if the makers of this film are in a constant back-and-forth dialogue with the original, and there struggling to wrap their heads around the initial themes and ideas that Walt put on-screen.  This results in a plot that can't decide if it wants to honor what came before, or thumb its nose and strike out in its own direction.  This sense of creative indecision seems to be the main reason for certain puzzling choices, and omissions contained throughout the runtime.  Take for instance, the first big plot development of the film, where Pinocchio is just trying to get to school, only to be waylaid and tricked by Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) and Gideon.  

In the original, the fox is this consummate, fast-talking conman.  Someone who always likes to keep an ace up the sleeve, and a few steps ahead of his marks.  He is someone who is so good at his "job", in fact, that he doesn't have to work that hard to get Pinoke's strings in the palm of his hand.  In this version, the kid winds up getting the better of the two shysters because of a talk on temptation that he a Jiminy had last night.  This might sound like maybe at least the beginning of an interesting development, except for two problems.  The first is all about plot continuity, while the second has to do with the film deciding to go for an all-for-nothing outcome.  First, there's Jiminy's little talk on morals.

It's played like its this important plot point, and yet its never dramatized on-screen, so that when Jiminy brings up an important lecture on stranger danger, it's the first the audience has ever heard of it, and it appears to come out of nowhere, with no build-up or narrative logic to help the viewers along.  It's probably a minor case of the film taking you out of the story, yet its a glaring one, and it foreshadows future problems to come.  This leads us to the next big issue with this scene.  In this version, Pinocchio is able to shake off the two anthropomorphic con artists, and actually make his way to school.  What happens next is just puzzling on too many levels to make that much sense.  At first, we're given a shot of Pinoke entering the school house, and Jiminy thinking it all "looks like smooth sailing", only for the puppet boy to get summarily tossed out of the class for being a "freak".  Now this is an odd creative choice for me, at best.  So much so that when it happened, I was kind of left clueless of where things could go from here, or even what the film was trying to say.  Now, it is possible to at least try and be fair to the film at this point.  Like for a moment, you may wonder if maybe this means this film is about to carve out its own identity, and find a different ground and step out of the shadow of the first film.

I suppose that would be nice.  There may even be a number of other options the filmmakers could have taken.  Instead, all that happens is that John and Gideon turn right back up and the plot or the original resumes almost as if nothing has happened.  There's an obvious question to be asked here.  Is the film trying to make some kind of point about discrimination, or something like it?  The ironic answer is I'm not even sure if the filmmakers themselves knew or care.  If they wanted to say something about prejudice, why bring it up one second, only to drop it the next?  Also, why bring it up in the first place, if it never surfaces as a major plot point ever again.  In fact, I just thought of something.  Wouldn't it have been a better twist if it was the schoolteacher who winds up selling Pinocchio to Stromboli? 

Why not have a scenario where Pinoke's first day at school seems like its going normal, until you notice the teacher is the one who is never taking a suspicious eye off of the new student.  It's the kind of off note that can be played to good effect if you plot it right.  For instance, have Pinocchio's arrival met with awe and wonder from his potential classmates.  Let him have a good time and possibly start even making genuine friends who think the idea of a living puppet is cool, like a storybook come to life, and as a result everyone gets a kick out of it, and Pinoke is able to have a good first day.  He's so jazzed that he gushes about it at home after class to Gepetto, maybe even asking if he can invite some of his new friends over to visit.  Meanwhile, throughout, you'd cut to shots of the teacher studying this new "anomaly" that's just walked into his classroom.  You should be able to see the gears turning in his head enough to know this guy is probably going to be up to no good.  Just to drive the point home, we can even have a shot of the teacher walking through the city streets at night, looking for posters of all the local carnivals and sideshows, until he comes upon an advert for Stromboli's circus.  Cut to next day, and Pinoke is all-smiles ready to greet the day.  Hell, let him be accompanied by his new friends.

When they all get to school, however, is when the teacher informs the class that today they'll be taking a field trip to see Stromboli, and after some bits of business, it is now the puppet theater owner who tricks Pinocchio into going along of his own free will with the enthusiasm of his new friends, and the "encouragement" of the teacher.  How much of an interesting twist would that have been?  It would have added a different spin on a familiar tale, and perhaps driven home the lesson of the original story from a direction you probably wouldn't have expected, and would now have to think about.  It's the kind of scenario that would deliver just the right artistic shock to both parents and kids, and it could have made for a hell of a lot more interesting movie.  Instead, one gets the sense that the live action makers decided to play it lazy here, and just add an extra bit of conflict that is there and gone in a flash, just so it can all turn back to the same plot beat from the original.  Get used to that, because this is a trend that continues throughout the rest of the film's runtime.  The film will throw a new element into the mix, and then just toss it all aside as soon as it arrives.  So it goes on to the point of absurdity.

The whole film turns into one big ongoing demonstration of rinse and repeat on a series of similar plot points.  It'll introduce a new character or potential plot avenue.  For a minute, it kind of looks like they might consider going in a different direction that might allow the picture to have an identity of its own.  Then all that happens is these new additions are treated less as characters and story beats, and more like the most half-hearted plot device, or whatever contrivance the filmmakers think can help to get them back to the next scene which just goes on to ape the original in a way that doesn't do either feature any favor.  In a way, though, that's an insult to plot devices.  Something like that can work well if its implemented right.  Tolkien's One Ring, for instance, is just such a device, and its gone on to be one of the most powerful metaphors in the history of literature.  The difference, of course, is that Tolkien was dealing with an actual piece of artistic inspiration.  Everything in the Disney remake just comes off as a piece of lazy writing tossed off with no care in the world except for how it will help move the film along.  The best worst example of this the is the addition of a seagull whose name I had to look up, because I know it was mentioned in the "story", and it still managed to escape my memory.

Let that stand as the greatest achievement, and the greatest tell on its overall quality.  Anyway, the new character's name is Sofia, and her purpose throughout the runtime is to serve as little more than a flying taxi service for the two main leads.  I'll swear, it's almost like they've taken one of those minor NPCs in a barely competent video game somewhere, and just set it down in the middle of the action because: reasons.  The other new actor in the play is called Fabiana.  She's a former ballet dancer who now works for Stromboli as a puppeteer in his traveling theater show.  She's one of the few people who is nice to Pinocchio during what counts as the first stage of his journey in the animated version.  She comes complete with her own carved marionette named Sabrina, and the way this figure is used has me wondering if I'm looking a case of the Mouse House swiping from other films.  In other words, I've got one of those profoundly dumb, yet weirdly plausible questions happening in my mind.  Is it just me, or am I the only one whose wondering if Disney didn't "borrow" a similar plot point from another film, Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night?  The only reason I ask is because of this nagging familiarity.

In this other, very overlooked pseudo-sequel, the former knot head meets up with a girl who has been turned into a puppet by a Something Wicked This Way Comes style carnival run by Darth Vader.  Not making a word of this up, by the way.  The point is when these two meet, old Pinoke gets his first experience of puppy love, and one of his goals is the desire to rescue the girl from her plight.  Now, to be fair, nothing like this ever happens in the Disney remake.  Sabrina isn't some normal, human girl under an evil enchantment that makes her look, act, or even be a puppet.  It's just a few carved pieces of wood with strings attached.  And yet the scenes between the main lead and this new figure are played in this weird, off-putting style, were its like Pinoke can't tell if he's talking to just another puppet, or an actual girl who looks like one, and so there's this odd, out-of-place sense that he might be having pre-adolescent feelings for someone who isn't even there.  I can't tell what's more confusing, or worse.  The fact that Pinocchio can't tell the difference between himself and a lifeless doll, or the fact that Fabiana is orchestrating the whole thing.  No, sadly, I'm not just pulling anyone's strings here.  It's in the film.

What happens is any time Fabiana wants Pinocchio to agree with her on something, she'll sometimes use her own marionette to try and cajole him into going along with her own schemes.  The good news, I guess, is that it never goes any further than that.  However, the way the character is written just leaves so many odd, unanswerable questions.  The best conclusion I can arrive at is that Fabiana is this potential plot point they were looking at, before deciding "screw it", and just tossed her aside in the service of getting on the next act of the movie.  All it amounts to is fifteen or so minutes I probably won't be able to get back, at least not in this timeline, that's for sure.  So thanks, I didn't need it.  The worst part is it all just sinks lower from there.  One of the biggest disappointments in the film is all the ways in which they completely neuter the famous Pleasure Island sequence.  To start with, it just comes out of nowhere, rather than having the natural sort of build-up that Walt gave it in his own picture.  

There we were introduced to the Coachmen in a setting and scene that did all the right things in establishing his character for the viewer.  The execution is a masterclass of creative compression and info-dumping that never lags, or leaves us bored.  In fact, Walt is able to give the audience this great and unforgettable sense of unease that stays with us throughout the entire Pleasure Island sequence.

With just one scene, Walt creates, and introduces generations of viewers to one of the great Nightmare Merchants of cinema.  We never find out his name, yet its almost like we figure out too much of this character, and it remains chilling to this very day.  Let's just say that while I've never read or seen a Top 10 List of Creepiest Movie Villains that featured this guy, it would still make perfect sense that he should be up there.  In fact, if someone where to tell me the Coachmen in Walt's Pinocchio and Christopher Loyd's character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit were one and the same, I would be very tempted to by into such a fan theory.  That's how good a job Walt has done in finding the right phobic pressure points in his viewers.  Needless to say, this is the one plot point where the live action should have taken things as far as it could go.  It is more than possible to create the right fear factor effect with a character like this, even in a non-animated setting.  It's precisely here where the filmmakers should have known that what the film needed at this point was a proper sense of edge and menace.  If I were trouble-shooting this scene for the company, then I would have made the following suggestions.

The first thing to do would be to find the right kind of introduction the Coachmen needs for this kind of film.  I almost want to say the right approach is a combination of low key and big.  It can't start with an explosion, yet the character should be allowed to do something that starts out small, and yet manages to find that same note of unease.  Like this time, have him discussing plans with John and Gideon, like normal, only to have him slip further back into the shadows of the bar room, leaving the faint traces of his face showing, and then let the faintest trace of this weird, creepy light start up in his eyes as he keeps laying out his plans.  Hold on that shot and never let the actor blink.  In other words, treat him as the kid version of Hannibal Lector in these introductory moments.  Then, when the scene is over and a nervous John and Gideon are leaving the premises, borrow from Ridely Scott's Blade Runner by having the fox and cat clear and visible in the foreground, with the Coachman lingering as a blurred outline in the background.  We should see no more than the faint traces of his face, yet now the glow from that weird, eerie light from his eyes can be seen clear in the gloom.  Make John and Gideon leave the frame, and then leave the audience in the room with the Pleasure Island proprietor.  Now for the best part.

We leave the scene in a very slow fade to black, letting the lights dim and vanish, until there's no clear source of illumination left in the scene, except for those two pinpoints of light from the Coachman's eyes, and you just leave it like that for a few seconds longer.  Let the camera linger on that light source, so that the audience experiences the maximum amount of artistic discomfort and fear.  The best part should be that the viewer can no longer tell if those eyes are looking right back at them.  Fade to black on that scene.  Now for the question of what's the best way to handle a live action Pleasure Island?  The best idea I've got is that this could be a great place for the right kind of musical sequence.  I'm not thinking in terms of the usual, classic Disney fair here, either.  I'm thinking more along the lines of a music video style montage of chaos and delirium as we follow Pinoke on a tour of hell's half acre.  Beyond this, all I can truly suggest is that you use U2's 1991 hit single, The Fly on the soundtrack.  

To me, that whole song of sums up not just the whole ethos of Pleasure Island.  It also makes a perfect theme song for the Coachman.  If you stop and think about it, it's closest the character would ever come to giving an explanation of who he is, and what his motivations are for all of his childhood trauma inducing actions during his segment of the film.  It is even possible to go further and argue that using this song, in particular, would help create the perfect antithesis to the movie's opening number.  If Wish Upon a Star is the main through line of story, and also the whole crux of it's hero's journey, then the U2 single should be able to act as the pitch-perfect nadir counterpoint.  The moment where the main character's development is ready to reach its lowest peak, and both the song and the setting reflect all of this.  This can be done with nothing more than letting Bono's words play over the action of the film, and you begin to understand how they form the perfect anti-type to the story's opening moments.  It's all in lyrics such as "It's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky...It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest"!  The whole thing would match the Pleasure Island sequence like a glove.  Therefore the best advice I could give on how to film it would be to instruct the makers of the movie to try and catch a quick run-through of the following music video done by U2 themselves for any ideas.  The whole thing could have brought the house down, and given the live action version its own clear identity.  Maybe even one with the possibility of standing head and shoulders above the original.

Instead, that's not what we got at all, isn't it?  To start with, the live action showrunners forgot to include the one vital element that Walt knew was essential.  The Coachman and the Island just appear on-stage without any real fanfare, and no decent sense of build-up whatever.  All that happens is soon after Pinoke escapes from Stromboli, he's seen making a bee-line for home with Jiminy.  The animation on the main character in this scene is weird, because it almost looks like the same style Brad Bird used for some of the cast in The Incredibles.  It's an annoying distraction I might have to come back to.  Right now, instead of preparing the audience for the film's next big set piece, all that happens is the two leads and the audience are just introduced to the Coachman, clear out of the blue.  As Pinocchio emerges, running, out of an alleyway, he's suddenly snared in a net and drawn up into a Pleasure Island carriage driven by none other than the Coachman himself.  That's it, there's nothing else in the way of preparation, or setup for one of the most iconic characters and sequences in film history.  He's just introduced out of pure thin air, and the movie never takes the time Walt did to explain what's happening in this situation.  The worst part is you didn't need to tell everything, just enough to make it work.

Part of what makes the Coachman such a great villain is that you never learn everything about him.  It's implied he might be something less than human with his whole operation.  Yet Walt knew this was the one story element that shouldn't be entirely spelled out.  Instead, it's the information you are not told that allows you're imagination to fill in the gaps with all the nasty possibilities it can conjure up from the dark corners of the mind.  Perhaps without ever being aware of it, Walt has managed to play the same type of narrative trick that H.P. Lovecraft made famous.  It's not the kind of skill you expect to find deployed in a kid's film, and its downright brilliant and chilling.  The mistake the live action version makes is that it veers far too much in the opposite direction.  We're given no proper introduction to the Coachman.  So that means we can't tell who he is, where he came from, or even what in hell he's doing in the film right now.  It's true Walt never gave us a full explanation for all of these questions.  However, he was smart to know that you can't just leave the audience empty-handed, especially not with a villain like this.  We were given enough information to set our imaginations misbehaving.

It was all just a minor parcel, yet Walt knew that was more than enough.  With just that minor sliver of background knowledge in place, the rest of the story could be allowed to take care of itself.  The problem is the remake can't even be bothered with that necessary fragment of build-up, because it seems to be in too much of a rush to hold the viewer's attention.  In doing so, it seems to forget that the proper way to do that is to remember it should be there to tell an entertaining story, not slap-dash things around in a mad sprint to the finish line.  The result is that both Pleasure Island and its overseer are neutered in all the ways they shouldn't be.  Not only are we given no real clues to who and what's going on, and hence no real reason to care, the actual danger the Island poses has been pretty much removed from the frame.  The whole point of the Island is that it is a place of the purest types of temptation for the ages 6 to 10 demographic.  All the ways in which a fundamentally broken childhood could wish to lash out at the world and others is meant to be waiting there on the Island, right at the children's finger tips.  A good way to put it is that this Island represents a nightmare version of the Lost Boys.

In other words, it's all meant to be a perfect, extended metaphor for a young mind gone wrong.  Everything there is implied to be broken and fragmenting before your eyes.  It's not even the fact that there's drinking, smoking, brawling, and rioting allowed in the establishment.  It's that all these things are put there to deliberately enhance and create a very negative, self-destructive mindset.  Everyone in that place is encouraged to lose their literal minds, and hence their sanity.  That is where the real threat of the whole sequence comes from.  So of course the live action version takes all this and waters it down.  Instead of the children's version of Dante's Inferno, we're treated to what looks like little more than a riff on Willy Wonka's factory if it were an amusement park.  If that sounds like it could be fun, then perhaps it is.  And that's just the problem.  Pleasure Island isn't meant to evoke a sense of fun in the viewer.  It's there to get under your skin with a palpable sense of unease.  None of this should come off as a bunch of kids just playing around and having a good time.  The one thing Pleasure Island should not be portrayed as is a place where normal fun occurs.  That is missing the point entirely.

It's also a mistake the live version chooses to commit itself to, thereby missing both forest and trees together.  Rather than a Hall of Mirrors you are meant to break, we get a candy mountain slide.  Instead of menace, there's just this vague sense of confusion.  And in place of drugs and alcohol, we get... Root Beer Floats.  The most puzzling bit is that Pinocchio takes one look at all of this, and he immediately gets the sense that something crooked is up.  He therefore decides he doesn't want anything to do with it.  So he never really gets himself in trouble during this whole sequence.  Instead, all he does is keep looking worried, and declining everything that gets passed his way.  The trouble with this take is that it robs the situation of all its dramatic potential.  Walt knew the smart choice to go ahead and let the main character take a fall in virtue during these scenes, that way when the shit started to hit the fan it carried all the appropriate weight of an emotional gut punch.  In this film, however, things play out different.

Rather than letting the characters have their own choice or agency be what drives the plot, the movie decides to almost keep Pinocchio away from the temptations (if you can even call them that) which the Island is supposed to represent.  The problem is this choice makes what happens next just a bit pointless and nonsensical.  Why is the main lead turning into a donkey if he's done nothing wrong?  The whole point of that scene in the original was to dramatically portray the way Pinoke had made an almost literal jackass of himself.  However, that kind of plot development makes no sense unless the character has done something to make it a logical enough outcome based on previous actions.  Should I talk slower if the artistic reasoning or math behind this scene is that difficult to compute?  I haven't got a clue, it just sure sounds that way based on how the studio handled one of its most iconic, and blood-curdling sequences.  Rather than having an indelible image seared into my brain for all time (in a tour-de-force sequence which I want to swear John Landis might have used wholesale for a similar transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London) I'm just left wanting to laugh at how ridiculous it looks.

No offense, yet that's just not the way you're supposed to play an act like Pleasure Island.  It's meant to be dark and gritty, combined with a fairy tale quality that makes it the stuff of nightmares.  The worst part is knowing the film could have branched out from here into even greater heights with a situation like this.  You could have even taken a leaf from the old, Genesis video game version of the film and had Pinoke try to confront and defeat the Coachman in a wild, messed up and awesome show-stopping Horror action set piece.  There would have been nothing finer than seeing a long-cherished childhood nightmare brought to life in live action, and then see him get his comeuppance on the big screen.  All of which is to tread into spoiler territory by saying that not only does the Coachman escape any kind of justice in this adaptation, both he and the Island are all turned into toothless laughing-stocks.  This point is driven home by one of the worst images the film has to offer.  When Pinocchio and Jiminy make their escape off the Island, the Coachman sees them, and starts to give chase.  Now if that sounds like the best opportunity for the film to pull out the stops, and go as creepy-awesome as possible on us, then let me just step in here in order to ask all of you to adjust (or lower) your expectations accordingly.

Instead of a grand showdown, what the viewer is treated to is the sight of an over-the-top Luke Evans trying to chase after a CGI figure that looks like the kind of bargain-bin Mouse House knock-offs you'd find lining the shelves of a county fair somewhere.  Evans himself, meanwhile, tries to keep pace (until deciding he doesn't give a rip) by riding on what appear to be a pair of Smoke Monsters from Lost.  I am not making any of this up, for the record.  It would be nice to say I'm just gaslighting you, although it's almost as if the movie is doing a better job on its own.  The difference is that if the whole thing was really just meant as a kind of informal troll joke, then I don't hear anyone laughing.  There's still a lot of cringe to go around.  I know that's true, I've tested it.  The truth is that one reaction is all the film seems to be good at.  It may be possible that someone out there gets a kick out of all of it.  Yet even if this is true, I just don't see how the vast majority is ever going to be able to take them at all seriously.  What a film like this isn't up to is what paints the whole damn thing in a very negative light.

So far this review (and hence, the movie itself) has consisted of little else except a list of rushed scenes, and missed or maligned opportunities.  The only other thing left to talk about is the ending, and all that elements that go together to make it stick in your craw.  I guess the one part about it that might bother me the least is how they portray the figure of Monstro.  In the literary source material, he's described as "The Terrible Dogfish".  Walt made the perhaps wise decision to make the character a sort of freak sperm whale.  One that's large enough to swallow ships and men whole.  The Zemekis job once more shuffles the deck, and churns out a creature that comes across like this giant, sea-going Kaiju monster.  Out of all the elements of this film that irk the living shit out of me, this one might classify as the least offensive.  It might not do any real harm, unlike a lot of other changes made to the story.  And yet even I can sympathize with those who say the creature doesn't make as much sense as he did in the animated film.  Come to think of it, the one thing that does bother me about the new look is that he's now given this stupid sounding laugh, like he's this creaky puppet in a carnival sideshow fun-house attraction.

Somehow, this doesn't seem like the right approach for what should be a mostly silent figure.  To be fair, I guess it could have been worse.  They could have gone and tried to make him into Moby Dick.  At which point I'd have been ready to put my head in my hands, and ask for my money back.  The real problems with the finale stem more from two other glaring errors.  The first concerns a  puzzling character trait.  The second revolves around an ending which seems well on the way to living in infamy.  The first problem could be stated in the form of a very odd and puzzling question.  Is the film trying to get us to believe that Pinocchio is somehow related to The Incredibles?  You know, like he's supposed this unknown, great-grand ancestor, or something like it?  It sounds stupid, I have to agree.  All can say is its not my fault that Pinoke goes from being himself in this sequence, and instead gets turned into Dash Parr in order to help an appropriately confused and clueless looking Tom Hanks get away from a digital Godzilla reject.  Are you starting to see the nature of the mounting problem here?

Yet this is not even the most blatant issue with the final act.  That comes right at the denouement, with Pinocchio and Gepetto on a beach in the wake of Monstro's attack.  I'd attach a spoiler warning for what happens next, however I can't shake the idea I'm doing at least some kind of favor by not holding anything back.  If what I'm about to say next can keep viewers from wasting their hard earned time and money, then you're welcome.  Now everybody and their literal grandparents knows how Walt's original films ends.  Pinoke sacrifices himself in order to save his dad, and pays for it with his life.  It's the ultimate form of bravery, truthfulness, and unselfishness.  All these qualities combined in a single act result in what I can only describe as a kind of alchemy that brings the character back to life as a real, flesh and blood human being.  It is the culmination of a hard and arduous journey of and into the self.  It amounts to a realization of human potential, and is meant to signify the heights we, as a species can reach if we're just willing to put our best foot forward, and not be afraid to take a stand against all the ways that all the bad apples of the world, who would try to corrupt life for warped and twisted ends.

So Walt let's his film end on an upbeat note with celebration all around.  How does the live action version go?  Well, let me put it this way.  It's not enough that it gets things wrong, or misses the mark.  It does all of these things in a way that leaves room for an interpretation that I think could be a hell of a lot more problematic than the filmmakers are aware of.  You see, this time it's Gepetto who gets killed by the Monstro attack, and for a minute it looks as if our hero has become an orphan.  The way this dilemma gets solved is - well, just listen for a minute.  Pinocchio starts to tear up, as you'd expect.  Then he begins to recite the Wish Upon a Star theme, as one of his tears falls on Gepetto.  Tom Hanks then opens the characters eyes, as if he's suddenly alive again.  And yet I just realized it could very well be that the woodcarver was merely stunned for a moment, without suffering all that much in the way of damage.  If that's the case, then it opens that brief moment to the charge of being no more than a quick, cheap shot ploy for audience sympathy were none was really needed.  It doesn't get much better.

The very last scene in the film has Tom Hanks deliver a speech to Pinocchio along the lines of saying "you're special just the way you are".  We then see them walk off together, and Jiminy's closing narration tells the audience how he's not real certain whether Pinocchio ever became a real boy or not, and that the real meaning of the story rests in something like, "whatever you believe".  The End.  If some of you are staring at the screen now in disbelief, trust me, all you're doing is automatically mimicking the entire sea of faces from scores of audiences across the country when they saw that very same thing.  I suppose it's fair enough to claim a finish like that completely misses the point of both Walt's film, and the Carlo Collodi novel off which it was based.  And to be even more fair, all of those criticisms are true.  It's just that I can't help thinking even this basic observation still doesn't go far enough.  It still let's what the filmmakers have done off the hook without addressing the fundamental crux of the problem.  It all has to do with what they think humanity symbolizes in the film, and what that means for the overall nature of Pinocchio's journey, and whatever its' ultimate meaning may be.

Now, in all fairness, it's a mistake to believe the people who made this film are great brains, or like to ponder the nature of things.  None of what we see up on the screen tells us we're in the hands of any great, intellectual mind.  We are most definitely not dealing with Socratic level thinkers here.  So in that sense, maybe you can claim its possible that the big mistake of this "new and improved" ending is that the filmmakers are just too ignorant to know the what they are trying to say in these final moments.  Since they can't seem to make up their mind about how the film should end, the whole thing comes off as "muddled".  This is most likely the truth, and its the final nail, and its probably the final straw that breaks the film's chances of ever being a real success.  I am willing to grant all of this.  It's just that there's one, final element to the movie's closer that I find really troublesome, and it comes from a left field corner that a lot of viewers might not have bothered to consider.  For me, it all has to do with the unconsidered implications of the final point the filmmakers seem to be trying to get across to viewers.

Now, I can't tell how paranoid this is going to sound, yet one of the implications of Gepetto's final speech in the film is that the main character is meant to be seen as "better than all the rest".  In other words, the movie makes Tom Hanks say that because Pinocchio is a puppet, that somehow makes him perhaps better than human beings in general.  Now, to my thinking, there are two flaws with this line of thought.  The first is practical, logistical.  The second, for lack of a better word, is moral.  In the first place, there's no inherent advantage in being a living block of wood.  You can't sleep near fire, you'd break easily under the right conditions, and its difficult to figure out how this would make you stronger than, say, Muhammad Ali.  If anything, he'd be one of the cases where the main character could be broken like a literal twig.  So there's no real, practical advantage to the character remaining a puppet.  The real trouble with the implications of the final lines are that it posits the idea that by not allowing himself to be human, Pinocchio has it in him to become something greater than man.  And I think it's right here, with that single implication, that the movie gets itself into some real big trouble.

What the film makes Gepetto do is what amounts to creating this unintelligible sort of idol out of his own "son".  It almost sounds as if Pinocchio is meant to be seen as this sort of pint-sized, marionette version of what Nietzsche referred to as the ubermensch, the great titan that towers over all of humanity.  It's also this same type of philosophy that powered such regimes as the Third Reich.  So yes, it almost sounds to me as if the movie is going there.  Now bear on thing in mind.  I said it merely sounds like they are going there.  I have not said that this is what they are in fact trying to do.  Indeed, when it comes to time to ask who to blame for such a poor product, I'm inclined to go easy on director Robert Zemekis.  Everything about this production points him as being little more than the hired help for this picture.  He's their just because he was hand picked, plopped down in front of a property he really had nothing to do with, and told to just oversee something that was already in production probably before he even got there, leaving him with very little to do except know when to yell action and cut.  It's the same sort of problem that even Steve Spielberg got faced with when Warner Bros. decided to green light a picture like Ready Player One.  It was out of both their hands from the start.

Everything about this "new version" of Pinocchio tells me that all the major creative decisions were made not by genuine creative types like Zemekis, or the various crafts people who helped set the film up.  Instead, the nature of the writing screams out that this was all brought to you by Disney's corporate board of directors, or something like it, and not much of anyone else.  This whole thing has been a useless exercise in paint by the numbers, resulting in a lackluster story, bland characterization, and a tacked on moral that while obviously not meant as such, is open to to the worst kind of misinterpretation, which probably serves as a real clue that they should have just stuck with the ending of the original film, and left well enough alone.  In fact, it just possible to argue that the filmmakers have missed a real opportunity in highlighting the importance of the main character being able to achieve a state of genuine humanity.  It could be done by having, say, the Coachman emphasize the cost of choosing to remain as something fundamentally inhuman.  He could have confronted Pinocchio as he's trying to escape, and after a bit of a struggle, the twisted ringmaster realizes he's got something different on his hands, so decides to ask the puppet a very important question right there, point blank.

It would have to to go something, like: "Seems like I was wrong about you, at least.  Your no mere brat, not just another stray piece of life's garbage.  Who are youWhy are you hereWhere do you come from?  More to the point, what are you?  You're not human, that much is certain.  You'd have bled out long before now if that was the case.  Take my word for it, I guarantee.  Don't think we see many of your sort around here.  Though maybe that's for the best".  Then a light goes on in the Coachman's eyes and he gives Pinoke his most evil, yet winning grin as he says, "You might just have potential, my boy"!  The freaky carnival driver could then deliver this whole "join the dark side" spiel by offering Pinocchio a chance to come and actually work for the carnival, and help the Coachman in bringing more victims to Pleasure Island.  Our hero would of course tell Humbert Humbert to pound sand.  He could even do it by delivering a line that acts as a callback to his previous circumstances, only now with a changed force of emphasis.

Pinoke could accuse the Coachman of being in charge of nothing more than a world of "puppets and strings".  Why not let him then make his supreme statement of defiance in the face of evil.  "There are no strings on me".  At the very least the character would be given one hell of a catchphrase.  It also means that technically, such a choice would transform Pinoke into kind of a badass.  In any case, the result would be the same.  The chase is now back on, and after a further brief scuffle, Pinocchio makes a final, chilling yet fitting discovery once he is able to unmask the Coachman, and discover that he's been another living puppet this whole time.  In other words, what if the proprietor of Pleasure Island was revealed to be the same kind of half-life being as Pinoke, only he offers both viewers and the main character a glimpse of what life could be like if he went totally evil?  I imagine this final form of the "Coachman" to look like this twisted, wild-eyed version of a court jester, or a Punch and Judy doll, complete with manic, spazzing movements, and a high-pitched, keening whine of a voice to match, that is always ready to spiral upwards into an ear-piercing laugh.  It would be the kind of reveal that would both flesh things out, explain why the Coachman would be so interested in having Pinocchio as an accomplice, and give the hero a barometer to measure himself against, and avoid at all costs.

It would also allow one other thing, that I'm sure even fans who prefer the animated original would appreciate.  It would finally give that whole, entire nightmare sequence the type of closure that several generations of viewers have pined for ever since they saw it.  For the first time in ever, Pinocchio would be allowed to both defeat the Coachman, and make sure he gets his just comeuppance.  I'm thinking something along the lines of when Mickey hacks a broom to pieces, just off-screen in The Sorcerer's Apprentice.  Just the right mix of the fairy tale gore, and classic Disney style restraint.  It would also serve the perfect set of circumstances that would allow Pinocchio one of the truest possible lessons in right and wrong.  His eyes would be opened, and while he might have learned fear, he would also have been able to discover a more important quality within himself, courage.  It's just too bad that we'll never be able to get any of this out of the completed live action film as it is.  Rather than knowing when to quit when their ahead, however, everything about this film comes off as a mixture of second guessing and lazy writing. 

You can tell the difference, or drop off in quality the minute you stop and compare the two versions.  Once you've done that, a few things become obvious right away.  The first is that Walt was an artist, and whoever was in charge of the remake was not.  When Disney set out to make the story of a living marionette as his second film, he really does appear to have tried to give as much as he possibly could to the story.  This is something you can tell from the final product.  To this day, the animated version remains one of the great, sumptuous visual feasts in the history of cinema.  Every frame of cell animation is testament to just how much effort and care the Nine Old Men were able to put up on the screen.  However, I don't think any of them could have gone as far as they did without Walt their to goad them into pushing themselves beyond what they believed to be their own limits.  Above all this, however, there remains the story itself.  I'm going to go out on a limb and claim this is one of those times when the adaptation is even better than the source material.  Walt has taken the disjointed, episodic nature of the Collodi novel, and unearthed its actual, beating heart.  The result of this painstaking effort is a cast of characters who look simple on the surface, while always pointing toward hidden depths lying just beneath the appearances.  We're given situations in which the demarcations and development of a character can be suggested with a mere gesture, or a subtle change in voice.

It was and remains one of Walt's great achievements, and hopefully it continues to be one of the Disney Company's flagship performances.  I suppose when you look at it that way, however, it's obvious that no such thing as remake was ever going to be able to live up to the benchmark that was set so long ago.  Just about the only way this film could have ever had a chance to stand on its own two legs would be if it were able to find all the right deviations that would allow it to have its own identity, while still remaining true to the basic nature of the characters and their narrative arcs.  It probably would never have been able to escape the shadow of the original, yet it might have at least had an approach all of its own.  That in itself might have possibly given it some kind of passing grade.  The fact that the finished product under discussion here today does none of the above tells me a few things, all of them bad.

It all boils down to a pair pretty simple observations.  The first is that there's not much in the way of talent to be seen here.  The second is the reason for this lack of effort is either because the filmmakers didn't have whatever artistic skills were necessary to keep this film from going off the rails.  Or there's the worst case scenario, which I fear might be the true one.  This is where whoever was really in charge of this production just didn't care, and that's a mistake of the grandest order in a story that's loved as much as this.  That kind of lackadaisical attitude is what allows a film like the live action Lion King remake to get off he ground.  It's how you ruin the plot of Picard and Star Wars.  These are all examples of a film production falling apart like a poorly made soapbox racer, and the live action remake of Pinocchio winds up as just another perfect example that you can point to as something that's gone wrong.  As I've said, I don't blame people like Zemekis and Hanks for this debacle, as it was clear the Company itself was always more in the director's chair, rather than the actual artists they hired to both perform and direct everything that happens on-screen.  It's just a shame this is how things are now.

As it stands, I find myself in a very ironic mindset.  We've reached that point where I'm forced to admit that knock-offs like Pinocchio in Outer Space (1965), or Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987) wind up coming off as better products than this new-old Disney offering.  It shouldn't have to be this way.  I genuinely wish it weren't.  None of this is what I was expecting.  And so here it is, anyway.  A bunch of cheap knock-offs are now capable of receiving a higher rating than an official offering from the blockbuster studio they were originally both cribbing from.  The real punchline is that I'm not even sure the first one qualifies as all that good, yet at least the second one had a few moments of interesting scenes and concepts that could have made for a better film.  The current remake doesn't even try to reach that far.  Let that stand as a testament to just how frigged up this whole situation has got.  There may come a point where Disney is able to make a good live-action remake of one of their classic, animated catalogue, though right now, Pinocchio 22 is proof that they haven't struck gold yet. 

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