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O. C. LIVE | Kids on Film

For Young Fans, the Magic Is Gone in High-Tech 'Pinocchio'

In "The Adventures of Pinocchio," animatronics and live action combine to retell the familiar story of a puppet who must learn about honesty, responsibility and love before he can become a boy. (Rated G)

August 01, 1996|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Children are often demanding when it comes to the retelling of beloved and familiar stories. Every element must make its appearance and in the proper order. So, despite the delights of animatronic nose stretching, many kids were disappointed that this melodramatic version lacks the details and the magic they have come to expect from their books and the Disney cartoon.

Six-year-old B.J. Manning, a Pinocchio video collector from Rancho Santa Margarita, said he even prefers a Pinocchio video his mother bought at Albertson's. At least it has the Blue Fairy.

"All the way over," said his mother, Patty, "he kept asking me, 'Is there going to be a fairy?' "

"I didn't see the fairy," B.J. said sadly. The Blue Fairy of Disney's 1940 animated classic, who tells Pinocchio what he must do to become a boy and grants his dream with a wave of her wand, has been replaced by the more abstract power of love.

In the new movie, Pinocchio, carved out of a special pine tree by Geppetto (Martin Landau), gets into trouble as soon as he starts to walk and talk. Taking a cue from modern solutions to juvenile delinquency, Geppetto has to pay for his "son's" bad behavior. But because he is poor, he loses custody to the wealthy but evil Lorenzini (Udo Kier), who turns bad boys into donkeys. Geppetto goes to sea to find the lost puppet, the puppet goes in search of Geppetto, and they are both swallowed by a whale.

Some children were jolted by the sight of the whale--a frightening, toothy monster whose insides resemble a pink, slimy drainpipe more than a cavernous airplane hangar.

Some missed seeing Pinocchio escape, as he did in other versions, by building a fire and making the whale sneeze. In the movie, he deliberately tells a lie to make his nose grow into a long stick that keeps the whale's mouth pried open.

His wise cricket guide is "fancier" than 9-year-old Brett Heller of Irvine expected, but he still tries to help Pinocchio by explaining lessons of life: Beware of temptation, use your instincts to determine whom to trust, and if you act like a jackass, you will become one.

The lessons' specifics were difficult for some kids to remember. "He said, 'Do right things instead of wrong,' " recalled Christopher Craveiro, 7, of Costa Mesa.

But Brett said he did learn something from the movie--a new vocabulary word. "I didn't know donkeys are called 'jackass,' " he said.

For Brett's sister Tracie, 6, the highlight came at the end when Pinocchio turns--briefly--into Jonathan Taylor Thomas, regularly seen as the TV son of Tim Allen on "Home Improvement." But for Brett, the transformation left too little to the imagination.

"The puppet turning into a boy, that was not so hot at all," he said. "It was like the skin was peeling off, like rubber coming off his face. I don't like that kind of morphing."

It would be better, he said, if Geppetto went to sleep and the cricket performed some magic. "Then when the father wakes up, he can be a real boy."

Parents who remember the earlier versions will undoubtedly agree with their children that sometimes technology can interfere with the magic of imagination.

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