Known for his iconic “Back to the Future” films, Robert Zemeckis has been churning out an impressive number of popular movies on the big screen such as “Romancing the Stone” (Michael Douglas), “Death Becomes Her” (Meryl Streep), “The Polar Express”, “Beowulf” (Angelina Jolie), “Flight” (Denzel Washington), “Allied” (Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard), and so many more.
His new adaptation – “Pinocchio” – sees the 70-year-old filmmaker working with longtime collaborator Tom Hanks once again. “Pinocchio” follows the beloved tale of a wooden puppet crafted by Geppetto and magically brought to life, who embarks on a thrilling adventure to become a real boy. In this interview, Robert Zemeckis talks about some of the major changes (like the Blue Fairy singing the famous ballad “When You Wish Upon a Star”), adding new music to this film, and why he’s so fond of Tom.
Q: Why did you want to reimagine “Pinocchio”?
A: Walt Disney was really clever. He always looked to make movies of stories that were pretty much impossible to do as live action movies. They could be done very wonderfully as animation because he was able to do stories about talking animals, puppets, fairies and dwarves and things that would be impossible to do in live action. So Pinocchio was a natural for that. It is one of the most, if not the most beautiful, animated features that was ever made.
But now, since the digital cinema has emerged, the puppet can be very much three dimensional, and it occurred to me that you could do a very plausible version of ‘Pinocchio’ as a live action movie. I thought that was a worthwhile project to do.
Q: Other than being live action, what are the major differences between the original animated version and the new film, and what were your reasons for making these changes?
A: The original animated film is a vast departure from the source material. We use the Disney version as a template and an outline for our story. It follows pretty much the same adventure that Pinocchio follows in the animated version. We modernize the storytelling because there was a different sort of pacing in movies 60 years ago than there is now. There’s also some ambiguity. We’re not telling the audience what they have to feel or what they have to think. Audiences are way more sophisticated, and they don’t want to be spoon fed. They want to be able to think for themselves. We added some characters, but basically kept the spirit and the tone and the theme of the first movie.
Q: In addition to most of the classic songs from the animated version, there are four original songs in the film, written by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard. How did you decide where in the story you needed new songs?
A: We went through the process of doing what you do whenever you’re going to make a musical. When we were writing the script, there were places where we said, ‘Hey, why don’t we do a song there?’ And the composers came up with places where they got an idea for a song. We just kind of went back and forth. What songs do best in musicals is shore up the emotional growth of a character or help express what a character is feeling at any given moment. So that’s what we did with the songs.
Q: What were your biggest challenges in making this film?
A: The biggest challenge is to get the special effects done in time. We have a very serious shortage of digital artists in the world, and everybody is making movies with digital effects. It’s very tough to find enough people to actually work on your movies these days.
Q: Please comment on the cast, beginning with Tom Hanks, with whom you’ve worked four times.
A: I’m a believer that Tom is an actor that can do anything. He brought more to the role of Geppetto than I ever could have imagined. Cynthia Erivo is the Blue Fairy and Luke Evans is The Coachman. They’re fantastic. But so are my voice actors. Ben Ainsworth couldn’t be better as Pinocchio. Joe Gordon-Levitt does Jiminy Cricket fantastic and Keegan-Michael Key is the most perfect ‘Honest’ John you could ever imagine having in your movie. So they’re all great.
Q: This is the first time you’ve teamed with Chris Weitz on a screenplay. How was that experience?
A: Chris and I traded ideas back and forth. It was a true collaboration, We both brought ideas to the project, and we both were very helpful in killing each other’s darlings when we were getting self-indulgent. We collaborated the way writers should write.
“Pinocchio” will launch 8th September 2022, exclusively on Disney+.