Classic cartoon Pinocchio is one of Walt Disney’s most beloved works—and Hollywood royalty Tom Hanks thinks it’s ready for a 21st-century remake.
This time, however, it combines reality TV with state-of-the-art 3D computer modeling software, with two-time Academy Award winner Hanks playing the poor woodcarver Geppetto.
The 66-year-old star was quick to note that his character was “not far off” from what fans of Italian historical figures know and love.
“We have a responsibility to not change things just to change things,” Hanks explained.
Having said that, the critically acclaimed actor was quick to point out that “you can’t just make a real-life version of an animated movie.”
“It has to be deeper. And it has to have more baggage. From the beginning, you have Geppetto in his own stew, so to speak, it’s not a happy stew,” he said, adding: “Walt Disney understood that the dark side of fairy tales was important in a storytelling device that welcomed young and old.”
The new film is written and directed by Oscar-winning Robert Zemeckis, whose work “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” — another live-action film — tops his credits.
Zemeckis and Hanks have also crossed paths as part of BAFTA and Academy Award-nominated films.
Released in 2000, the project quickly found itself achieving cult status. The pair made more than $427 million at the global box office, which on paper seems like a recipe for success.
“Bob [Zemeckis] To be one of these filmmakers, they can’t do things they’ve done before,” Hanks said.
“He was always going to do things that he could roam around in the creative process, and he never challenged me to some task that was completely new to the filmmaking process.”
“Pinocchio” is just the latest in a series of Disney modernizations — from “The Lion King” to “Aladdin” — a departure from the hand-drawn characters that audiences have come to know and love.
But as with any technological advance, the increased level of sophistication creates problems for both actors and animators.
Hanks described his working partnership with Zemeckis as “an excellent challenge”, acknowledging that the director’s way of working was “an extension of the acting process”.
The actor elaborated on his point, describing the intricacies of the green screen scene he needed to imagine, noting at times how overwhelming the task at hand was.
“My brain was exhausted the second or third day we were there,” admits Hanks.
“I said, ‘Bob, can you give me a moment to put all these mental images in the right place in my mind?’
“I knew from working with Bob a long time ago that unless you’re very savvy about the technical issues that will happen after the fact, it can really screw you up.”
Zemeckis’ credentials, combined with the film’s all-star cast, make Pinocchio’s appeal increasingly apparent.
The film stars 13-year-old Benjamin Ainsworth as the voice of Pinocchio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days Of Summer) as Pinocchio’s guide Jimmy Nee Cricket, Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo (Genius) as the Blue Fairy and Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco as Sophia the Seagull.
Actor Keegan-Michael Key (Let’s Be Cops) will also play “Honest” John, while The Coachman, a brand new character, is played by Welsh actor Luke Evans (Nine Perfect Strangers).
Noting the “very clever” nature of Walt Disney’s work, Zemeckis reflects on how the visionary American animator focused on a story that was “nearly impossible to make as a live-action film.”
“Pinocchio is natural. It’s one of the most beautiful animated features ever made,” the director said.
As if to underscore the scale of the challenge, he also pointed to another conundrum that the film industry is currently facing.
“It’s hard to find enough people these days to actually make your movie,” explains Zemeckis.
“We have a serious shortage of digital artists in the world — everyone is making movies with digital effects.”
Zemeckis set the scene for the new show, also noting that Disney’s 1940 animated version has “differed” from the original material.
A true Italian story, Disney’s creation is based on a children’s book written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 in Pescia. Originally titled The Adventures of Pinocchio, the fantasy novel details the mischievous adventures of a puppet boy and his father.
“The rhythm of movies 60 years ago was different than it is now,” explains the 70-year-old director.
“We’re not telling the audience what they have to feel or what they have to think. The audience is much more mature, they don’t want to be spoon-fed. They want to be able to think for themselves.”
It’s a sentiment Hanks subscribes to, emphasizing the ways in which key elements of the storyline fail to align with today’s social norms. Geppetto leaves his young son alone as part of Disney’s original adaptation, and the actor highlights the incredible nature of the scene — another reason to update the story.
“I think in the original movie, there was a hasty conclusion that everything was going to be okay. But I don’t think we can do that in this day and age,” Hanks said.
“You can’t just send your kids out as a parent. You worry. You worry they won’t come back.”
Hanks said the diversity of modern films was “a sign of our social and professional responsibility” and for them it was important to “reflect the times”.
He said there was “no reason” why people of color shouldn’t have a major role, and that the filming process was “in an improved way…because of the way we are right now.”
“I think it’s important to reflect the times in which we make our films and to increase diversity, which I think is a sign of our social and professional responsibility,” he said.
“There’s no reason why an African-American actor couldn’t play the Blue Fairy…so throughout the making of this movie, we’ve been aware of how it can be better in an improved way, simply because of who we are now.
“If we were going to go back and make it a shot, an actor, an actor, I think that would be boring.
“Better this way.”
:: Pinocchio is now on Disney+