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PINOCCHIO – Alan Silvestri

September 16, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Continuing on with their never-ending quest to make live action versions of every film in their back catalogue, Walt Disney’s latest such movie is Pinocchio, the classic tale of a little wooden puppet who wants to grow up to be a real boy. It feels like there is a new version of Pinocchio every couple of years: Roberto Benigni has made at least two, and a different animated one directed by Guillermo Del Toro is due out later in the year, although that one is a significant departure from the original Carlo Collodi story. This one, though, is essentially a fleshed-out version of the well-loved 1940 animated classic; it’s directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars young Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Pinocchio, alongside Tom Hanks as the wood-carver Geppetto, Cynthia Erivo as the magical Blue Fairy, Luke Evans as the evil Coachman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the voice of Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket.

However, despite the original film being almost universally well-loved, the response to the remake has been unexpectedly mixed. Several critics did praise its visual style, technical excellence, and attention to detail, but many others commented on the film’s lack of ‘soul’ and ‘magic,’ while disparaging some of the updated and new elements of the plot. It’s always hard, trying to recapture that sense of childhood wonderment, while simultaneously trying to find that sweet-spot middle ground that attracts those who love the original AND a new audience from a new generation, and it appears that, despite his pedigree, Robert Zemeckis has not been able to do that here.

Musically, Pinocchio has always been at the heart of the Walt Disney brand. The original film’s lead song, “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, is now essentially the ‘signature song’ of the entire company, and is usually heard over the production logos at the beginning of all Disney films. Anyone coming into a film where that song was present would be on a hiding to nothing if they tried to equal it, let alone surpass it, and so thankfully composer Alan Silvestri doesn’t even try. Four songs from the original movie are performed during the course of the film – “When You Wish Upon a Star” with lush sensitivity by Cynthia Erivo, “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, An Actor’s Life for Me” with showmanship and flair by Keegan-Michael Key in character as the sly fox Honest John, and “I’ve Got No Strings” with cute precociousness by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth – alongside a quartet of new efforts by Silvestri and his regular lyricist Glen Ballard.

“When He Was Here With Me” and “Pinocchio, Pinocchio” underscore the scene where Geppetto creates Pinocchio in the first place; the former features Hanks essentially speaking dialogue over Silvestri’s warm orchestral chords, and comes across as unexpectedly downbeat, full of longing and regret. There’s a mischievous score cue, “You Should Have a Name of Your Own,” acting as a link, and then “Pinocchio, Pinocchio” sees Hanks actually singing more-or-less properly, in a more joyous and ebullient tone, over a catchy and whimsical melody filled with clockwork rhythms. However, Ballard’s lyrics are at times quite awful, especially as they somehow manage to rhyme the word ‘pinocchio’ with ‘holy smoke-io,’ ‘gnocchio,’ and ‘rice from Tokyo’. Dear lord.

“I Will Always Dance” is performed in character by actress Kyanne Lamaya as Fabiana, a new character for this film, who is a former ballerina who now works for the evil puppeteer Stromboli. Her song starts out as a wistful reminiscence of her time in the ballet, but then unexpectedly turns into a festive Latin samba that is probably rhythmically authentic, but feels wildly out-of-place in this context, and reminds me way too much of Barry Manilow’s song ‘Copacabana’. Finally, “The Coachman to Pleasure Island” sees Luke Evans channeling the Mary Poppins version of a cockney accent, despite him being actually British; the song is a jazzy, slightly dirty-sounding barker’s carnival attraction round-up, promising glory and riches to his gang of unsuspecting donkeys-to-be.

In terms of the score, Pinocchio marks the nineteenth collaboration between director Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri, a relationship that dates all the way back to 1984 and Romancing the Stone, and comprises such classic works as the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and The Polar Express, among many others. At this point in their working relationship Zemeckis and Silvestri have a near-telepathic level of communication; Silvestri invariably knows what Zemeckis wants to hear in his scores without him even having to say it. Earlier in their careers this synchronicity was a defining trademark of their respective work; now, almost 40 years later, I wonder whether it has led to a degree of predictability.

I should say that there is nothing wrong with Silvestri’s Pinocchio, at all. It’s light, fun, whimsical, magical, heartfelt, and exciting, all the things you would want it to be, and it overflows with all the familiar compositional touches and instrumental choices that Silvestri built his career upon. Unfortunately, what that also means is that you know exactly what it’s going to sound like before you hear a single note. The score plays like an Alan Silvestri greatest hits album, and for fans of his sound that’s never a bad thing, but considering that the music Silvestri wrote for recent films like The Croods, Welcome to Marwen, The Witches, and others, could be described similarly, you can sort of see where I’m going with this. I understand that, as a James Horner apologist, this may come across as a double-standard, and I absolutely acknowledge that upfront, but even with that in mind Silvestri’s score for Pinocchio still played that way.

Interestingly, the songs and the score seem to exist in two separate worlds. Silvestri’s underscore contains no elements of Leigh Harline’s song melodies, nor does it appear to reference any of the new song melodies Silvestri wrote specifically for this film. Instead, Silvestri’s score exists in something of a bubble; it has all the lovely hallmark Silvestri touches, but a lot of it comes across as being weirdly anonymous, almost as if he was so conscious of not wanting to step on the classic songs, or overshadow them in any way, he scaled back his own score a little too much.

Despite this, however, there is still a lot to enjoy. The opening cue, “Jiminy Cricket’s the Name,” is just delightful, and has a little jazzy flavor running through them that recalls some of the lighter moments of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There’s a real sense of wonder to cues like “He’s Alive,” “Am I Real,” parts of “I Can Talk and So Can You,” where everything is topped with a magical sheen full of harp glissandi, chimes, bells, light metallic percussion inflections, and even an occasional choir. “Sabina’s Waltz” is a florid, delightful piece of classical pastiche, while “This Will Be Your Home” and “The Collection” embrace the dangerous darkness of Stromboli’s marionette theater in a manner that reminds me of the score for Death Becomes Her.

Once in a while the score presents a moment of rich and vivid brass-led power, a swirling string figure, a typically Herrmannesque suspense chord, a militaristic snare riff, or an especially lyrical passage of delightful woodwind writing, but some people may find the first half of the album a little exhausting due to Silvestri’s penchant for whiplash-inducing mickey mousing – a great deal of the sequence from “I Can Talk and So Can You” through to “A Lie Can Really Change a Person” is especially guilty of this, changing style so frequently and abruptly that it’s dramatically unintelligible. There is a recurring theme that runs through several of these cues, relating to the relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto, but as I mentioned earlier it’s unexpectedly anonymous, and leaves very little lasting impression.

The score changes significantly for the better in the aftermath of the outstanding “Pleasure Island,” which oscillates between being bold and bombastic and being ridiculously, almost annoyingly, upbeat in the most Sherman Brothers way, complete with a circus calliope, whistling, and a la-la-la children’s chorus. It’s raucous, enticing music that portrays the island as the most amazing, exciting children’s paradise ever – but of course the fun quickly turns to horror for those who over-indulge. When Luke Evans’s Coachman comes back in the cue’s final moments, there is the briefest hint of Stephen Sondheim and Sweeney Todd in his delivery.

Cues like “I Wonder Where Everybody Is” and “Somebody Help Me” build further on this tremendous action material with some scintillating writing for energetic brasses offset by striking, stylish string phrases; the latter even heads off into some light horror territory, which of course makes perfect sense in context, irrespective of how you feel about burros. The recurring theme for Pinocchio’s relationship with Geppetto starts to re-emerge towards the end of “He Sold His Clocks to Find Me,” and increases in intensity during “I Have An Idea,” before peaking during the tremendous pair “Monstro Attacks” and “Here He Comes”.

It’s impossible to overstate just how much better the second half of the score is compared to the first; Silvestri drops the head-spinning mickey-mousing entirely and fully embraces the personal action style that has served him so well since the days of Predator and the original Back to the Future; the huge orchestral crescendos, the fulsome chords, the driving percussion, and the riveting energy that runs through “Monstro Attacks” and “Here He Comes” is just outstanding – I especially appreciated the call and response structure of the brass, the flashing string countermelodies, and the increased use of snare drum riffs.

The final three cues return to the emotional sentiment of the earlier part of the score, and especially the main Pinocchio/Geppetto theme, which gradually builds through a series of delicate passages for gentle strings, lyrical woodwinds, and magical accents, before swelling into the largest performance of the theme in the conclusive “Pinocchio Main Title”.

Clearly, there’s a lot to like in Pinocchio. Alan Silvestri is an old and safe pair of hands when it comes to scores like this, and he knows when to press all the right emotional buttons, as well as when to lay on the action and drama. The second half of the score, from “Pleasure Island” onwards, is really outstanding, vintage Silvestri, but the fact that the first half of the score contains so much mickey-mousing means I fear that some may not have the patience to sit through it to get to the good stuff.

Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that this score is so clearly entrenched in Silvestri’s personal style – almost to the point of predictability – may result in some listeners feeling a little let down by the inevitable sameness of it all. One final issue that may leave some listeners disappointed is the fact that Silvestri chose not to incorporate any of Leigh Harline’s classic Pinocchio themes into his new score; the lack of any crossover between them leaves the song-score split a little disjointed, as if the songs are there merely for lip service and not an integral part of the whole idea. Surely a huge, sweeping final orchestral statement of “When You Wish Upon a Star” to round out the album would have been appropriate?

However you may feel about these various issues, I personally enjoyed Alan Silvestri’s Pinocchio enough to give it a recommendation. It’s too anonymous and self-conscious to become a beloved classic the way the 1940s original did, but Alan Silvestri’s many admirers will still have fun in the moment.

Buy the Pinocchio soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • When You Wish Upon a Star (written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, performed by Cynthia Erivo) (1:58)
  • Jiminy Cricket’s the Name (1:26)
  • When He Was Here With Me (written by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard, performed by Tom Hanks) (3:26)
  • You Should Have a Name of Your Own (1:51)
  • Pinocchio, Pinocchio (written by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard, performed by Tom Hanks) (1:10)
  • He’s Alive (3:02)
  • Am I Real (2:54)
  • I Can Talk and So Can You (2:03)
  • Off to School (1:21)
  • Famous! (3:09)
  • Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, An Actor’s Life for Me (written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, performed by Keegan-Michael Key) (1:09)
  • Get Me Outta’ Here (3:11)
  • I’ve Got No Strings (written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, performed by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) (1:39)
  • Sabina’s Waltz (0:31)
  • I Will Always Dance (written by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard, performed by Kyanne Lamaya) (1:54)
  • This Will Be Your Home (5:10)
  • A Lie Can Really Change a Person (3:14)
  • The Collection (2:28)
  • The Coachman to Pleasure Island (written by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard, performed by Luke Evans) (1:32)
  • Pleasure Island (4:44)
  • I Wonder Where Everybody Is (1:38)
  • Somebody Help Me (3:04)
  • He Sold His Clocks to Find Me (2:09)
  • I Have An Idea (3:28)
  • Monstro Attacks (3:45)
  • Here He Comes (1:23)
  • I Have to Help Him (1:08)
  • We’re All Here (1:54)
  • Pinocchio Main Title (1:14)

Running Time: 67 minutes 36 seconds

Walt Disney Records (2022)

Music composed by Alan Silvestri. Conducted by Mark Graham. Orchestrations by Mark Graham. Recorded and mixed by Peter Cobbin and Dennis Sands. Edited by Jeff Carson, Stephen Durkee and Charles Martin Inouye. Album produced by Alan Silvestri.

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