To knock this "Pinocchio" update would be blasphemous, especially since everything it offers is sweet and syrupy, just what the target demo expects. Like a warm-and-fuzzy version of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "Geppetto" benefits from extremely detailed visuals, snappy pacing and cute-as-buttons tykes. There are also plenty of magical Mouse House touches: wands, glitter and a splendid palette full of every color imaginable.
To knock this “Pinocchio” update would be blasphemous, especially since everything it offers is sweet and syrupy, just what the target demo expects. Like a warm-and-fuzzy version of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Geppetto” benefits from extremely detailed visuals, snappy pacing and cute-as-buttons tykes. There are also plenty of magical Mouse House touches: wands, glitter and a splendid palette full of every color imaginable.
The lonely Geppetto (Carey) will do anything for the children of Villagio, but he constantly yearns for a lad or lass of his own. The Blue Fairy (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finally grants his wish one evening, and Pinocchio (Seth Adkins) comes alive.
But Geppetto’s parenting skills are a bit rough: He doesn’t know how to discipline, he’s too uneasy making decisions and he insists that his favorite plaything, now personified, become a woodcarver.
Another hurdle is Stromboli (Brent Spiner), a callous puppeteer who nabs Pinocchio in order to make him a star in a traveling show. Dad then embarks on a quest to find sonny boy, even though he has already labeled him a disappointment and considered “returning” him.
On his journey, Geppetto visits several bizarre worlds. Professor Buonragazzo (Rene Auberjonois) “designs” perfect, made-to-order offspring; Lazardo (Wayne Brady) is a terrible magician who claims failure comes from pressure; and Ring Leader (Usher Raymond) is a charismatic circus entertainer who allows youngsters to do what they want — before he turns them into mules.
But, of course, this is Sunday night, so it all works out in the end. With some hasty soul-searching, gee-whiz dialogue and a lot of hugging, papa realizes his mistakes, and the importance of independence remains intact.
Carey has become one of the Alphabet web’s biggest draws, but using him as a singing-and-dancing daddy wannabe was certainly a gamble. He pulls it off, though, because of a casual disposition and some crafty techniques: helmer Tom Moore and writer David Stern know that hummable music and lively chatter can conceal some of the sitcom vet’s weaker points.
And thank goodness for Schwartz; his playful collection of songs adds a mound of class to a handsome and finely acted production. The most memorable of the bunch are the energetic “Toys,” the quick and clever “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and “Pleasure Island.”
Also solid is a whimsical and, to an extent, weird supporting cast. Spiner brings robust enthusiasm to his role as the dastardly villain, Auberjonois is kooky as the “kid creator” and Raymond steals the show with a delightfully staged soft-shoe bit. The only blip is Louis-Dreyfus, who doesn’t stand out the way flighty pixies usually do.
Tech credits are tops all around, highlighted by Charles J. H. Wood’s attractive production design and Hope Hanafin’s bright and dynamic costumes.