ABC TV - May 7, 2000

Review by John Kenrick

After Disney s recent revamps of Cinderella and Annie won great reviews and strong ratings, it was inevitable that Mickey's team would attempt an original TV musical. Gepetto revisits the story of Pinocchio from the toy maker s point of view. The Disney team has done a polished job, providing a witty and thoroughly charming musical fantasy for children – and more than a few good laughs for grown-ups. Not an instant classic, but good entertainment.

Pinocchio s boyish instincts get him into trouble, and Gepetto (with a few assists from the Blue Fairy) helps to get him out of it. We're missing a few familiar animal characters from the classic screen version – this time the emphasis is on humans. Drew Carey is surprisingly effective in the lead, not an easy role to pull off. One might wonder why such a young Gepetto does not just marry and begat children, but Carey s understated acting and gentle singing make the character quite likeable.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus steals several scenes by playing the Blue Fairy as a tongue-in-cheek take off on every fairy godmother and good witch you can think of. And the lady can sing! Brent Spiner shamelessly chews up scenery as Stromboli, the greedy puppeteer who will do anything to feature a puppet without strings in his show – his Rossini-style solo is hilarious. Rene Auberjonois is almost wasted as a scientist who makes prefabricates perfect children, and pop star Usher gave a smooth Fosse-esque performance as the leader of the evil gang that runs Pleasure Island. Seth Adkins makes Pinocchio a contemporary kid, as temperamental and exasperating as possible. You wouldn t blame Gepetto for sanding this little brat s hide (which we are told is birch, not pine).

The score by Stephen Schwartz (composer of Pippin, Baker s Wife) has a delightful Broadway-esque sound, with a few touches of Italian coloring to fit the setting, and some inventive rhymes. I especially enjoyed the triple-tiered opening number "Toys," which juxtaposed children lusting for toys and their exasperated parents with Gepetto wishing for a son of his own. Another highlight was the Blue Fairy s warning that magical quick-fixes are not always the right answer, made all the funnier when the Fairy magically forces Gepetto to dance with her Astaire-Rogers style. The only clunker was a number that kept hurling around annoying rhymes for "island," but it was not enough to ruin an otherwise fun score. The Disney folks threw in a few bits of Pinocchio's classic score for good measure.

In the end, Gepetto added up to a very pleasant way to pass a few hours, especially for the younger set. One hopes that Disney/ABC will cook up some more original TV musicals of a similar or better caliber. As it stands, their next announced project is a remake of Mame with Barbra Streisand as executive producer – enough to coax the blues out of any musical-lover s horn!

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