A David Bowers Film
So big is the computer animated feature film industry that most countries on the planet treat their debut into the genre as an unofficial global rite of passage. And Pinocchio 3000 (or P3K as its tagline professes) gets the distinction of being Canada’s first. Of course most CG features require more than the efforts of a single nation and P3K is no exception, having been a co-production between Canada, France and Spain, production was distributed among three different studios on two continents.
The film, in the event that the title doesn’t clue you in, is a futuristic update of the classic Carlo Collodi tale, with Geppetto building a robot instead of a wooden puppet, a cybernetic penguin playing the role of Jiminy Cricket and a villain intent not on turning children into donkey slave laborers, but rather covering them in metal.
Of course, and in keeping with the fact that the Pinocchio tale has had some extremely odd retellings throughout the years (perhaps you’ve heard of 1965’s Pinocchio in Space?), the idea of turning the source material into a futurist tale of robotics and artificial intelligence is a surprisingly good fit.
In fact, if you stop and think about it long enough, you may come to realize that Steven Spielberg has basically done it already in 2001’s AI. Summit Entertainment did it again with their 2009 computer-generated film Astro Boy and just for the record; either incarnation is vastly superior to P3K.
However, given the budget, manpower and distribution limitations P3K was dealing with from the onset, the reasons that the film falls into the “entirely mediocre” distinction may actually surprise you. You probably suspected that the first area of limitation would be the visuals. Not so! Even in 2011, Pinocchio 3000’s textures, renderings and animation are on par with some of the heaviest hitting animation you can find. Think modern day DreamWorks, Blue Sky, and Disney/ Pixar. Back in 2004, they must have been downright astonishing. This fact is even more remarkable when you stop to consider that all of the characters, props and sets were designed initially as 2D drawings, and then were, step by step, transformed into 3D using Softimage XSI.
So what must hold this one back, then, is the same thing that made fellow computer-generated feature films like Dolphin the Story of a Dreamer, The Snurks, Impy’s Island, and Doogal flop: The process of slapping an English dub atop a foreign film leaves plenty of room for poor plotting, abysmal pacing, and substandard scripting right? Wrong again. Pinocchio 3000 is perfectly synced and naturally plotted with a genuinely talented vocal ensemble (including Whoopi Goldberg, Howie Mandel and Malcolm McDowell) to boot.
In ruling all of the common snags out, you must be wondering just what this film does (or doesn’t do) to keep it from achieving the type of status reserved for titles like the original Shrek, Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and so on. The answer is that while the plot is certainly passable, it never, at any point, manages to bring anything substantial to the table and it certainly has nothing on the moody detail of Disney’s now ancient 2D incarnation of the story (which was released back in 1940 by the way).
At its most basic, everything about the original tale is here: The lovable and warm-hearted inventor Geppetto, the Blue Fairy, or no scratch that: Cyberina the Holographic Fairy, Pinocchio’s concerned conscience, Jiminy Cricket (but for reasons never explained, a speaking purple penguin named Spencer here) and a rotund villain named Scamboli out to get our protagonist. Oh sure there are some additional changes scattered about: This is, after all, the year 3,000. The trouble is that, arguably, not a single one serves to benefit the material over earlier incarnations.
Don’t take my word for it… Stromboli or I mean Scamboli’s main purpose for existence seems to be the elimination of nature (a bit heavy handed in terms of theme, no?) and literally coats any stray foliage that finds its way into his city, Scamboville, with metal. No longer a puppet-master, he’s the mayor in this incarnation who just so happens to despise all children save for his beloved Daughter, Marlene. Scamboli, to appease his daughter’s request for more place space, in conjunction with a dastardly ambition to turn children into metal coated robot thingies, decides to make a theme park called "Scamboland".
I suppose to summarize all of my rambling and complaining, it could be said simply that the film isn’t all that clever. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks with their uncanny ability to meld brilliant prose into the visually stunning medium, but P3K never manages to capture that type of charm even though the concept and artwork hint toward limitless potential.
Even discounting the simple fact that the plot fails to capitalize upon the seemingly endless possibilities associated with depicting like in the year 3000, the biggest crime to report is the lack of integrated wit. The humor factor is awfully weak, relying heavily upon the slapstick of Scamboli’s robotic henchmen, Cab (a sort of humanoid taxi) and Rodo (a wind-up porcupine).
While it’s certainly not fair to keep drawing comparisons to the likes of industry-leaders like Pixar and DreamWorks, the simple fact remains that the premise in P3K is actually strong enough to legitimately warrant such comparisons. There certainly is a lot of potential here but the delivery just comes up a little flat. It hits many of the staple plot points that we know and love but a lack of layered scripting and humor that will appeal to viewers of all ages fails to live up to the stellar visuals and sheer novelty of the premise.
What did you think of this review?
A David Bowers Film
A 2008 CGI movie
A movie directed by Conrad Vernon