Yes, we’re doing a Disney Pinocchio movie, but not the ones you might think of, since we’re travelling back to the dawn of the millennium for the kind of Pinocchio film that’s actually more common than you’d think: the musical. One of them, anyway, we’re doing some of the more intriguing ones later this year, today we spotlight a fairly forgotten made-for-tv musical starring Drew Carey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, simply called “Geppetto” and released in 2000.
The idea – as exemplified by the title itself – is a nice variation on terms of how to retell the story of Pinocchio, because one could reasonably argue how odd that the narrative prioritizes following a character who’s personality basically was “pre-loaded” since “birth”, while leaving mostly in the background the only character that has past and would feasibly benefit from an arc.
At least, that’s what a superficial analysis might lead one to believe, but there is some truth to it regardless, because Geppetto is important to the narrative, and after all he’s the one who wanted so badly to be a father, albeit not in the way the story does.
So, indeed, having a version of the tale that focuses more on the character of Geppetto it’s a nice angle to revisit/redo the narrative, and there’s some narration by Geppetto himself here there, as he presents or comments on the situation so far, but as expected the story remains mostly the same, with Pinocchio upsetting Gepetto by misbehaving, running away and working for a puppetter (here renamed Stromboli instead of “Mangiafuoco”, for reasons), him boarding the boat to Pleasure Island thus turning into a donkey, the sequence inside the “whale”, etc.
Obviously every version tries to change things about in some way, often removing characters (like all anthropomorphic animal characters) and putting new ones, and Geppetto isn’t above that, as there’s no Cat and Fox duo in any shape, but there is a quack magician called Lezarno, and Professor Buonragazzo… which tickles me for reasons i will explain later.
But yep, the basic are here in terms of names, key events and characters, and curiously there’s not much holdover from the animated 1941 Pinocchio Disney film, just a couple of songs and minor things like Figaro the cat (i’m not counting Pleasure Island since it was already in the original book, under a different name, but basically the same thing).
Just with some cuts due to it being a made-for-tv dealio, so Pleasure Island and his tabacco & alcol references are nixed and the whole “donkey transmogrification” thing happens via a rollercoaster ride, but the familiar elements are mostly in place.
Real Boy Ratio:
Despite the idea not conceptually broken or anything, after watching this film’s opening act you’d wonder why Geppetto even wants a kid, since the ones in this movie just guilt-trip their parents into buying what they want and only this way parent can be happy, by learning to obey their offspring, which is pretty indicative of the decade the movie was made in. Some peak 90s shit.
Not that Geppetto’s much better, written as a simpering , lamentous dude that complains way too much, at best, and at worse looks like he draw the shortest straw when distributing the wigs, so….
Drew Carey is fine but really doesn’t bring any peculiar flair the role of a lonesome toymaker, and the way his character its written here makes one think that Geppetto just wanted the social respect people have by cultivating their offspring, not so much the boy itself, as he’s a bit TOO eager to return him back to the fairy and get a coupon code for something else not even a week in.
Also, it’s redundant that they made him the main character but pretty much gave him the same arc as Pinocchio, makes sense in context, but then again i feel Geppetto shouldn’t have been written this way to begin with, there was nothing wrong with the more common image of a lonesome old man that’s usually associated to his character, for once, but clearly that wasn’t the intention.
And then there is the new character of Professor Buonragazzo, which is hilarious as not only his name translate to “Professor Good Boy”, but he exists only to make the final takeaway of the story even more manichean, since he lives with his boy in the town of Idylia, where they make (and yes, i mean “make”) perfect, ideal children who always obey their parents.
Even more oddly given some of the earlier scenes (the opening song in Geppetto’s shop), this addition does fit the with the general message it wants to pass down to its young readers, and does NOT make the overall moral worse. Still on the nose (pun), but i’m surprised it didn’t backfire.
While the musical pieces and production values are technically impeccable, there’s really no impact to them, they are cheesy but not really appealing or attractive, compositions and lyrics are subpar, not horrendous but definitely uninspired, which become painfully obvious when they use some of the songs from the 1940 version (like I’ve Got No Strings) and it doesn’t help that sometimes that the pacing is a bit too fast, and songs are too widely sparsed during the runtime.
There are some numbers that do stand out for the better, so it’s not all bad.
Geppetto is a musical adaptation of Pinocchio’s tale that tries to put a spin on the story by making the toymaker himself the main characters instead of his wooden boy, an idea with some legs to it but botched by a Geppetto written like an annoyed, wimpering, always complaining, demanding man that really wished he’d knew beforehand and ask for a robot instead of a son, since he wants to be a father so badly (allegedly), but then he clearly has no experience or patience as a fatherly figure and sports an attitude that makes you believe he really would trade in Pinocchio to the Blue Fairy so he could cash his miracle back. As in, more than he should before realizing the right thing to do.
Also, this setup doesn’t really take advantage of the Geppetto focused narrative to do much of interest or substance, and what it’s new it’s mostly forgettable, at best, and as a musical it’s kinda… there, the production values are good (i’m not gonna whip it for some cheesy and laughabel effects as this is a made-for-tv production) but songs are mostly kinda insipid, uninspired, lacking any gusto, aside from the couple of songs taken from the 1941 animated Disney version (alongside the character of Figaro and not really much else, oddly enough, since it’s a Disney production after all).
So overall Geppetto….it’s not very good, though i do not hate it or anything, but boy the overall tone is “90s condensed” and feel incredibly aged (and not for the better), the star actors are ok but just don’t have much to work with (nor do any particular effort with the material), so it’s no real revelation that this mediocre-at-best Disney musical was easily forgotten in the 2 decades after its initial TV release. Again, you can do far worse, but i won’t say it’s quite “underrated” or anything like that.
It’s definitely a curio, that much i can say, while not perfect it’s a different enough spin on the tale, it has its moments and some odd new additions that aren’t half bad, you might enjoy it more if you have some nostalgia for it, but that could be said of anything else, so honestly i don’t really recommend to anyone outside of musical buffs (or “Pinocchio stans”) hungry to see everything.