So I watched the TV-movie Disney adaptation Geppetto last night and it was not very good. I mean, granted, I don’t think I should have really expected much since TV-movies tend to be lacking in quality nine times out of ten, and pretty forgetful. But this mindset might come from the fact that most TV-movies I watched growing up were terrible half-assed disaster genre films that leave me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth all these years later. However, in terms of Geppetto, I cannot help but feel that this TV-movie is special in terms of just how little this entire cast seemed to care in this product.
Now I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of the Pinocchio story. It’s not one of my favorite Disney films out there, I’ve never touched the literature, almost every single rendition or portrayal of the character has been typical, or just bad. The more I think about it, the more I realize that growing up, I was around Pinocchio far more than I realized, from the forgetful TV adaptations, to the Disney film, to the Geico commercials, to the Shrek portrayal… I guess what I’m getting at here is that my bar for this film was pretty low from the get-go, and for some reason, my expectations still weren’t met. I was hoping this would be one of those dumb bad movies you could pop in your player, make yourself a drink, and enjoy it for all the wrong reasons, but ironicallly, I don’t think this movie even accomplished that, despite the few laughs I admittedly had.
The first thing that stood out to me in this movie was the insane amounts of talent that were in this film. Drew Carey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Wayne Brady, fucking Usher made an appearance. I nearly did a spit take when the names Brent Spiner, and René Auberjonois crossed my screen. What the hell are Data and Odo doing in a Pinocchio story? There’s no denying that the movie has a talented cast. Apparently it was originally written for Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews as a sort of Mary Poppins reunion, but since Julie Andrews was getting throat surgery, they said screw it and got Drew Carey and the girl from Seinfeld. I’m sure the chemistry between those two will be just as magical as Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews.
So if you don’t already know, Geppetto follows the Pinoccchio story as you likely know it, only it’s told through the perspective of Geppetto, as played by Drew Carey. And I gotta say I don’t know if I can think of a more miscast character that I have ever seen. Drew Carey has a delivery along the lines of Matthew Broderick throughout this movie, and not once does it ever feel like he wants to be here. I’m not an expert on acting, but it does feel just a bit wooden, and I promise you that I was not just going for a cheap pun here. Drew Carey is not very good in this role. Not that the Pinocchio kid is anymore convincing. Seth Adkins plays the puppet, and I can’t say the actor is familiar to me. Apparently he was in some crime drama episodes of NCIS, apparently he had a very young role in James Cameron’s Titanic, I can’t say he looks familiar for anything I might have seen. And here, I can’t say he’s outstanding, but ironically, his performance isn’t nearly as wooden as Geppetto. Okay, I admittedly was going for the pun there.
Geppetto runs a toy store that apparently is one of the absolute busiest places in town. I guess it’s so busy, that every single morning, the kids and their families rush to his store like it’s Black Friday on Thanksgiving night. The musical number is charming in itself during this sequence, but I can’t say Drew Carey’s strained voice eft me fairly charmed. Geppetto wonder during this number why so many families raise such spoiled children, which I guess is actually a pretty big theme for this special.
We know how this goes. Geppetto makes a puppet (who is actually terrifying), he makes a wish on a star that his puppet would become a real boy (without singing the iconic song), and Seinfeld Blue Fairy girl comes down and makes the wish come true right in front of Geppetto. Yeah, Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn’t spectacular here either, and it’s from this moment on that you can really start to see how this was originally written for Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, because throughout the special, Geppetto and the Fairy share quite a few musical numbers together. And honestly… the chemistry is not very good. I don’t know what they needed to do to make this couple better, but I feel like these two would better perform together in a community play of this show than a TV-movie.
Pinocchio comes to life, and surprise surprise, Geppetto realizes that being a father isn’t very easy. One thing that actually got me laughing was that Geppetto actually attempts to wish Pinocchio back in a way that makes it sound like the magic the fairy did was jacked up from the beginning. Pinocchio gets in all sorts of trouble, and I can’t help but think that Geppetto is an absolute shit father. There are times that Geppetto is A complete ass to Pinocchio even. While I’m not a very big fan of the story, I can remember just how caring Geppetto was of his boy when he came to life. Part of the story focuses on Pinocchio attempting to rescue his father from a whale after his father goes out trying to find him, going all around the country to do so.
Here, Geppetto barely is listens to his boy, comes across more like an authoritarian than a loving parent (I get that parents need to display authority, but they also need to showcase love, and Geppetto is lacking that here), and tries to wish all his problems away by constantly calling on the fairy (who appears quite a lot). There’s a sequence after Pinocchio goes to school where he gets in trouble for fighting with another kid. Pinocchio was mimicking this kid, because Geppetto told him to go to school and do what the other kids do. When Pinocchio says “I was just doing what the other kids do”, I immediately though “All Geppetto has to do is say “That’s not what I meant”. Instead, Geppetto just drags Pinocchio home saying he doesn’t want to hear excuses, and dear God, Geppetto is a terrible father. Why did the fairy think this guy deserved anything?
Moving right along, Stromboli eventually enters the picture, and he is portrayed magnificently by Brent Spiner. Trek bias aside, Brent Spiner is the best part of this entire thing. Not only does he bring a certain goofiness to this piece, but the man isn’t half-bad when it comes to singing. I still have his “Bravo, Stromboli” music number kinda stuck in my head.
Spiner’s contribution to this almost makes it all worth watching honestly. Stromboli in this is either borderline schizophrenic or way too into his job as a puppeteer. He’s often carrying a puppet around like a dummy and interacting with it as casually as he would anyone else. And I was actually kinda surprised that Stromboli is as big a character as he is in this special. Stromboli just kinda drops off the face of the earth in most of the Pinnochio specials I see, and even the movie. Here, he’s the main antagonist, and it’s actually quite refreshing. It doesn’t feel forced, and it feels quite well done. You can tell that Brent Spiner is giving 110% here, and while Spiner’s goofy voices give me flashbacks of the not so good TNG episode “Masks”, by the time the credits were rolling in this thing, I was only thinking just how criminally underrated Brent Spiner’s acting abilities are. He is quite the energetic nutball in this special.
Speaking of Star Trek alumni, René Auberjonois (God rest his soul) makes an appearance too, as a professor that magically makes the perfect kid. And while his musical piece is pretty charming, I can’t say it left as big an impression as Spiner’s big number. It’s just not as memorable, but that’s not to discredit Auberjonois’ ability to at here, he’s an absolute joy, and I’m not even saying his song, “Satisfaction Guaranteed” is bad. It just didn’t leave me as whimsical a mood as “Bravo Stromboli”. But Auberjonois’ character and his giddiness and eagerness to magically create perfect children for Geppetto in the manner a used car salesman might push you to buy a car is quite charming.
But if we wanna talk about major ear worms of musical numbers, look no further than Usher’s “Pleasure Island”. Yeah, Usher is in this.
I’m not lying when I say Usher’s musical number was stuck in my head a good chunk of the night after watching this. Usher brought his dancing and vocal A-game, even if the Pleasure Island they depict feels rather tame for an island that boys go to make jackasses of themselves. The worst we see is them pigging out on cakes, a little tame vandalism, and that’s about it. I get that budget was likely an issue, but this just doesn’t feel like the grand no rules land that Pleasure Island is meant to be.
But if we wanna talk bad sets, the whale’s stomach is pretty dull. Then again, most of this part of the movie feels rushed and half-assed. We spend less than two minutes it feels in the stomach, where we see them escape effortlessly, and the very next scene shows them back in their home streets as if it were a minor inconvenience. Potentially swimming miles to shore after being swallowed by a whale after going on a near impossible journey to find my child? I can do it in my sleep!
But honestly, I think the real kicker that makes this one of the worst Pinocchio adaptations I’ve ever seen is the ending. Think about it. How does Pinocchio become a real boy? Well he has to prove himself brave, unselfish, truthful, then he will become a real boy. It’s really a simple morality tale that has a happy ending in this retrospect. Here?
Well, Pinocchio doesn’t do anything. We do’t see him develop as a character and learn these traits, and by the time Geppetto and Pinocchio return home, and Stromboli is waiting for them with legal claim to Pinocchio, we are left with little left to resolve the main conflict of the story; turning Pinocchio into a real boy. Having seen little development, and with Stromboli pretty much dragging him away, Geppetto is left with little choice than to sing a not so memorable song, and once more call on the Blue Fairy. The Blue Fairy waves her wand a few times, abra kadabra, Pinocchio is now a real boy. That’s right, Pinocchio is Deus Ex Machina’d into a real boy.
I mean I guess Geppetto learns to be a better father, but I mean, I feel like the story of Pinocchio needs to be about Pinocchio. If you wanna show Geppetto learning to be a better father, cool, but I don’t think you can just take away the core development of Pinocchio since Pinoccchio needs to learn these life lessons to gain his goal. Here, he constantly defies his father, constantly gets into trouble, is lucky the donkey curse “washes off” in water, and even relies on lying to get them out of the whale. I mean… what the hell does Pinocchio learn in this?
Now this special isn’t without its charm. I do find a lot of the set designs to be colorfu and creative, and for as forgetful as most of these musical pieces are, they are entertaining to watch for the most part (these can have some wonderful choreography). Yes, the special has its moments to shine, and I even had a few laughs in that so bad it’s good manner, but that just isn’t enough to exonerate the very obvious flaws this special can have. The core narrative of the story is gone, and what’s presented instead just isn’t as impactful. And that’s not to mention the not very good performances of the leads. Drew Carey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus just don’t have the proper chemistry to make this work. Honestly, even if Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews starred here, I’m doubtful this would have worked.
There’s a reason this continues to be the butt of a joke for Drew Carey to this day. It’s just not very good. Drew Carey doesn’t look like he’s having fun, he doesn’t look like he’s putting his all into his performance, it just falls flat on its face. Yet at the same time, I can’t help feeling kinda happy that I saw it, if not at least to see Brent Spiner in this role. The man knew how to make Stromboli entertaining.