Pinocchio (2022)

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Family;
Rated ‘PG’ for peril/scary moments, rude material and some language.
Stars Tom Hanks, Cynthia Erivo, Luke Evans, Guiseppe Battiston, Kyanne Lamaya, Lewin Lloyd. Voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Lorraine Bracco, Keegan-Michael Key.

Disney’s new iteration of Pinocchio is so devoid of charm or originality that it amplifies the question of if there’s any reason the studio continues to pump out live-action remakes of its animated classics aside from just being cynical cash grabs.

That’s doubly shocking in this instance considering the director is Robert Zemeckis, the cinematic visionary behind the likes of Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump.

The look and feel of the film is completely faithful to Disney’s 1940 animated version, which is so iconic that the signature tune of “When You Wish Upon a Star” has basically become the company’s theme song.

That song is central to this version as well, while Zemeckis and his longtime composer Alan Silvestri added some new songs that, while fine on their own, seem a bit too modern for the proceedings.

Another longtime Zemeckis collaborator, Tom Hanks, plays Geppetto the wood-carver, with make-up to give him the appearance of Disney’s animated version of the character. The live-action version adds some dark pathos to the character, making him a lonely widower who carves a puppet in the image of his dead son.

He names him Pinocchio because he carved him out of pine, and “Pinocchio” is a mash up of the Italian words for “pine” and “eye.” Characters then proceed to make several jokes about his name being such a play on words, while overlooking that in English it sounds like a combination of pine and oak, a double pun for something made of wood.

Anyway, Geppetto sees a bright star on a clear night, and makes a wish he doesn’t quite disclose, which in the original movie was for the puppet to become a real boy. In this version it’s probably for the literal resurrection of his dead son, which the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) interprets as bringing the puppet to life, and she does, though with complications. Namely, that being a puppet, Pinocchio starts out as a blank slate, so, as in the original, the Fairy names Jiminy Cricket as his conscience, with the understanding that if Pinocchio behaves and learns the values of right and wrong, he could become a real boy.

Jiminy, voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is doing his level best to bring life to the proceedings (no pun intended), also serves as the narrator of the story, giving him a kind of fourth-wall omniscience as he explains things to the audience. Luckily for him, Disney still won’t give him the fate he has in Carlo Collodi’s original book, when Pinocchio squishes him for daring to offer advice.

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Trouble begins when Geppetto decides to send Pinocchio to school, and the naïve puppet becomes so overwhelmed by the temptations of the real world he falls into all sorts of misadventures, just like in the original movie — a couple of con men sell him to the abusive puppeteer Stromboli, and he winds up at an amusement park that turns kids into donkeys for slave labor.

While the movie uses Geppetto’s collection of cuckoo clocks to jam in all sorts of references to other Disney movies, including Roger Rabbit, it leaves the most obvious opportunity for self-parody just sitting there in the form of Pleasure Island, which gets a new song but little else in the way of an update from the original film (remember, Disneyland wasn’t built until 15 years after the animated Pinocchio was released). Perhaps Tim Burton turning his Dumbo remake into a satire of Disney’s theme park empire right under their noses was a bit too much to bear.

The Stromboli sequence is perhaps the biggest deviation from the original, as Pinocchio meets a kind girl who once dreamed of being a ballerina before a leg injury left her in a brace, so she operates the ballerina puppet that Pinocchio seems to have a thing for, not realizing that she isn’t alive like he is. It’s amusing, and a bit sweet, serving to establish that Pinocchio as a wooden boy has abilities that real children wouldn’t.

Pinocchio disappearing from school kicks of the subplot of Geppetto setting off to find him (dragging his cat and goldfish along for some reason), leading to the famous scene where they all become trapped in the belly of a whale, which in this film is some sort of mutant sea monster that has swallowed enough ships his belly looks like a pirate’s cove.

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Using the original film as the template for the live-action designs, rather than using the original source material to re-interpret some of the scenes, just leads to some situations that animation can get away with seem especially bizarre in a real-world setting (aside from the central conceit of a magical living puppet). For instance, why are the con-men still presented as a fox and a cat who act like people, when other animals in the film are just animals, and why can some animals talk to each other while others can’t?

The main problem is that the film makes no case for why anyone should watch it instead of the animated version — the visual style is the same, the CGI isn’t integrated very well, and any differences don’t improve upon anything from the original, including a new ending that tries an end-run around audience expectations but is just abrupt and unsatisfying.

In the more than 80 years since its release, the original film’s primary motif of an artificial being striving to find humanity has become a staple of science-fiction and fantasy, providing ample fodder for a new Pinocchio to attempt to re-interpret, but this version barely even tries.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Comedy;
Rated ‘PG’ for mild action and rude/suggestive humor.
Stars Andy Samberg, John Mulaney, KiKi Layne, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Flula Borg, Dennis Haysbert, Keegan-Michael Key, Tress MacNeille, Tim Robinson, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, Da’Vone McDonald, Rachel Bloom.

The new Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers isn’t so much a reboot of the 1989-90 cartoon show of the same name as it is a hilarious spoof of the entire animation industry.

A staple of the Disney Afternoon animation block of the late 1980s and early 1990s, “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” repurposed Disney’s mischievous chipmunk duo Chip and Dale as heads of a detective agency that took on animal-based crimes. The pair had been created in 1943 and were featured in 23 animated shorts through 1956, mostly as annoyances to more-prominent Disney characters such as Donald Duck or Pluto.

Produced by the Lonely Island comedy troupe, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers reimagines Chip and Dale as actors who once starred in the “Rescue Rangers” TV show in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-type world where Toons exist in the live-action world (as do Muppets, puppets and Claymation characters).

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Best friends from high school in the 1980s, the pair have gone their separate ways in the 30 years since the show ended. Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) has become an insurance salesman, while Dale (Andy Samberg) is an internet celebrity cashing in on his fleeting fame by touring fan conventions alongside other washed up cartoon characters (including a rather pointed slam of the botched marketing of a recent movie from another studio). Dale’s also undergone a procedure to give him a CGI upgrade — this world’s equivalent to plastic surgery — while Chip remains his traditional 2D appearance.

The pair are reunited by the pleas of their desperate “Rescue Rangers” co-star Monterey Jack, whose cheese addiction has put him in debt with some unsavory characters. When Monterey disappears, Chip and Dale join forces with a local cop (KiKi Layne) to free him from Sweet Pete (Will Arnett), a disgruntled former child star with a reputation for re-animating Toons in order to force them to star in cheap DVD bootleg ripoffs of their own movies. The premise gives director Akiva Schaffer and screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand plenty of ammunition to skewer the tropes of animated movies and reboots.

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The film avoids cameos from any of Disney’s major characters, but, like Roger Rabbit, serves up a ton of casual appearances from well-known minor characters, many of which feature in other studios’ properties. The fun blast of nostalgia will instantly appeal to anyone who grew up in the Disney Afternoon era, but also aren’t a distraction from the main story, which mixes in enough generic archetypal characters so that audiences of any age can appreciate the film without needing to understand any additional history of animation.

Paramount Brings ‘Playing With Fire’ Home Digitally Jan. 21, on Disc Feb. 4

Paramount Home Entertainment will release the comedy Playing With Fire through digital retailers Jan. 21, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and on demand Feb. 4.

The movie stars John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key and John Leguizamo as a team of firefighters who rescue three siblings from a wildfire and find themselves unprepared for the task of babysitting them as they try to locate the children’s parents.

Playing With Fire earned $43.3 million at the domestic box office.

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Blu-ray and digital extras include deleted scenes; bloopers; the featurettes “Lighting up the Laughs,” “The Director’s Diaries: Read by Star Cast,” “What It Means to be a Family” and “The Real Smokejumpers: This Is Their Story”; and Cena as Capt. Jake reading a bedtime story with an amusing twist.

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Toy Story 4

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 10/8/19;
Disney;
Animated;
Box Office $433.06 million;
$39.99 Blu-ray/DVD, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘G.’
Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Jeff Garlin.

While the prospect of a fourth “Toy Story” movie was exciting news for fans of the franchise, there were some questions about whether the adventures of Woody, Buzz and the gang might have run their course. After all, the third movie from 2010 was an emotional rollercoaster that seemed to provide a decent, if bittersweet, sense of closure for the characters.

Of course, the question about what stories were left to tell had already been answered long before the fourth movie was announced, not only through three short films, but also two half-hour television specials. So, yeah, there’s more than enough material to mine.

There would still be the challenge of making any new film feel like an event worthy of the franchise. The movies should at least be somewhat transformational, redefining the status quo of the characters beyond what can be accomplished in a short film.

Well, the team at Pixar Animation Studios certainly achieved that goal, and then some. Toy Story 4 isn’t the best film in the franchise, but it might be the most cathartic. Where the previous film was a bit of a gut punch, this one offers more of a natural progression for the characters.

After a flashback that shows how Woody’s love interest, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was given away (mentioned in Toy Story 3), we check in to see how the toys are doing with their new owner, Bonnie. While she exhibits a rich imagination, she tends to leave Woody (Tom Hanks) sidelined, leaving him to wonder what his place in her life is.

Bonnie then creates a new toy, named Forky (Tony Hale), out of trash at school, and when he would rather return to the garbage than play with Bonnie, Woody assigns himself the task of educating the new toy and making sure he’s available for her. Woody’s task gets more complicated when Forky manages to jump out of the RV on a family road trip. In retrieving him, Woody comes across an antique shop and reunites with Bo. But Forky is captured by a doll at the shop who wants to trade him for Woody’s pull-string voice box to replace her own defective one, hoping the fix will help entice a kid to want to play with her.

Bo, on the other hand, presents another option for life as a toy: roaming free, with no owner, never worrying about being played with or not and determining her own fate. Meanwhile, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) sets out on a mission to find Woody, bolstered by a hilarious running gag of him activating his own voice feature so he can get advice from his “inner voice.”

So, yes, the movie does return to the “recover a lost character” motif that has been a staple of the franchise (and, indeed, most Pixar films), putting a few new spins on the formula along the way. The antique shop and a nearby carnival are wonderful settings for toy-level adventures with inventive new characters, such as Canadian motorcycle-jumping daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and a pair of game-prize plushes voiced by Key & Peele.

The only area of concern, really, is that each passing movie runs the risk of potentially piercing the suspension of disbelief about the toys being alive, which some of the characters actually joke about in this one. One need to simply look no further to the living vehicles of the world of “Cars” to see how much such questions can distract, and detract, from the narrative.

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The “Toy Story” movies have all been visual marvels, and the fourth one is no exception, advancing the state of CGI to render fantastic textures and details on the toys and their environments. The carnival offers a great excuse for bright colors and warm lights, while the antique shop provides a trove of subtle references.

The Blu-ray is loaded with a lot of great behind-the-scenes material, including an insightful feature-length commentary track by director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen in which they discuss all sorts of challenges to crafting a fourth “Toy Story” film.

Some of the more pivotal sequences get their own callout in the form of “Anatomy of a Scene” videos in which the filmmakers discuss and joke about making them. The disc includes a nine-and-a-half-minute look at the playground scene, while a seven-minute deconstruction of the prologue serves as a digital exclusive.

The disc also includes 28 minutes of deleted scenes, still in storyboard form, that show some of the unused concepts for the film, including an unused ending that would have pretty much negated the film’s message of finding your own place in the world.

The digital version of the film includes an additional seven-minute alternate opening sequence depicting Bonnie’s playtime fantasy using the toys.

The various featurettes included offer interesting glimpses of the production with the usual interviews with cast members and filmmakers, but often show them interacting in ways not typically presented in such videos.

There is a six-minute “Bo Rebooted” video about how Bo’s character was expanded into a major role for the film. Another, three-and-a-half-minute piece, spotlights the relationship between Woody and Buzz.

The new characters are shown off in a series of “Toy Box” videos that run 13 minutes, while an additional six-minute featurette focuses on new castmember Ally Maki and her pint-sized character.

One of the more nostalgia-infused featurettes is a five-and-a-half-minute “Toy Stories” piece in which several of the cast and crew recall the toys they played with as children.

Among some of the more random video bits are a few minutes of animation showing off the carnival and the antique shop roof from the toys’ perspectives, plus a series of promotional videos including character vignettes and trailers from around the world.

Some digital retailers, such as Vudu, also offer a two-and-a-half-minute “Toy Story Rewind” video in which the cast and crew reflect on the previous movies.

 

Animated ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ to Haunt Fans on Digital Sept. 25, Disc Oct. 9 From Sony

The animated Hotel Transylvania 3 will make its debut on Digital HD Sept. 25, and on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD Oct. 9 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The family comedy has grossed more than $425 million in theaters worldwide.

In the third installment in the series, Mavis surprises Dracula with a family voyage on a luxury, haunted monster cruise ship. The unexpected happens when Drac falls for the ship’s human captain Ericka.

The voice cast includes Adam Sandler (Grown-Ups), Andy Samberg (TV’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers), Kevin James (Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2), David Spade (TV’s “Rules of Engagement”), Steve Buscemi (TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”), Keegan Michael Key (TV’s “Key and Peele”), Molly Shannon (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), Fran Drescher (TV’s “The Nanny”), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms), Jim Gaffigan (Super Troopers 2) and Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein).

Bonus materials include three sing alongs, “Dennis Had a Giant Dog,” sung by Dennis & Winnie, “Monsters Like to Party Down,” sung by Johnny, and “Oh These Wolf Pups,” sung by Wanda Werewolf; the featurette “Plan Your Own Spook-tacular Sleepover,” with details on snacks to crafts to games; a “Vampire Make Over: Mavis and Drac Tutorial,” about how to turn yourself into Hotel Transylvania 3 characters; “Behind the Screams – The Voices of Hotel Transylvania 3,” showing how the characters are brought to life in the recording booth; “Johnny’s Home Movies (Franchise Recap)”; “I See Love Monster Dance Party Dance Along”; “Drac’s Zing-tastic Read Along”; and two mini movies, “Puppy and “Goodnight Mr. Foot.”

The Star

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 2/20/18;
Sony Pictures;
Animated;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for some thematic elements.
Voices of Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Aidy Bryant, Anthony Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Phil Morris, Roger Craig Smith.

This fluffy faith-based animated adventure frames the tale of the Nativity from the point of view of a group of animals whose lives intersect with the coming of the Messiah.

The Star follows a little donkey (Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”) with big dreams who befriends the pregnant Mary (Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin,” playing another woman pregnant by unusual means here) before she leaves for Bethlehem, then sets off with his animal friends to protect her after learning King Herod (Christopher Plummer) has sent hunters after her in his attempt to prevent the birth of the King of the Jews. The camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey) of the Three Wise Men also seek out the impending birth of Jesus to protect him.

Lest anyone worry about the film straying too far from scripture with its talking animals, one of its best running gags involves the fact that the animals can communicate freely with each other, but just sound like animals to the humans around them.

It’s a testament to the earnestness of The Star, and a sign of how it expects its audience to approach the film, that an early scene involves Mary returning home to her husband, Joseph, after being away for an extended period of time. Visibly pregnant, she explains it’s the Son of God and that it’s his duty to help her bring the child into the world, and he embraces the calling. Were this not a faith-based movie aimed at children, I suspect most men being told that story by their wife might have a different reaction.

The film’s screenplay was originally intended for a live-action production of the Jim Henson Company, which reportedly would have employed a style similar to Babe, using visual effects to make the animals appear to talk. When that didn’t pan out, the project was revived at Sony Pictures Animation by DeVon Franklin, a prominent Christian preacher and motivational speaker who has produced a number of notable faith-based films, such as Heaven Is for Real.

The end result is a cute adventure that, despite some broad Looney Tunes-type humor, remains grounded in its piety. While not a musical, the film relies heavily on a soundtrack consisting of modern renderings of some classic Christmas songs.

The songs are the subject of a good portion of the Blu-ray’s bonus materials, which include several “lyric videos,” two sing-alongs and a dance-along video.

The Blu-ray also offers some typical behind-the-scenes featurettes, such as the 13-minute “An All Star Cast” and the two-minute “Creating the World of 9 Months B.C.” There’s also a commentary with executive producer Franklin and director Tim Reckart.

But the Blu-ray also has ambitions to serve as a faith-based teaching tool, and to that end it includes the 10-minute “Faith All Year Round With DeVon Franklin,” in which the producer discusses the film’s message with a group of children. For those who prefer something more interactive, there are three arts-and-crafts videos.

Finally, the Blu-ray offers a bit of background art for special occasions in the form of an animated Nativity scene that runs on a 21-hour loop.