‘Pinocchio’ Composer Alan Silvestri on His ‘Almost Telepathic’ Connection to Director Robert Zemeckis

Plus, lyricist Glen Ballard discusses re-teaming with Zemeckis and Silvestri talks the live-action “Lilo & Stitch”


“Pinocchio” has been made real.

This new film is a Robert Zemeckis-directed live-action remake of Walt Disney’s 1940 animated classic and it has just arrived on Disney+. Tom Hanks is Geppetto, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is the voice of the little wooden boy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Jiminy Cricket. It has everything you’d expect from a Zemeckis movie – elaborate set pieces, whiz-bang visual effects and, of course, a soaring, earnestly emotional score by his longtime collaborator, the legendary composer Alan Silvestri.

TheWrap talked to Silvestri and Glen Ballard, who served as his lyricist for the movie’s new songs (Luke Evans’ updated coachman has a real banger) and has also been a frequent Zemeckis collaborator (if you put any of the songs from “The Polar Express” on your Christmas playlist, thank Glen). We talked about whether or not they were afraid to take on the project, what Zemeckis’ direction to them was and whether or not Silvestri would return for another live-action remake of a Disney animated classic – “Lilo & Stitch.” (Silvestri provided the music for the original.)

What was your relationship with the original animated classic?

Glen Ballard: Well, my relationship with the original animated classic was just as a viewer. And I’ve seen it multiple times, it was also always an interesting part of my background. I always loved hearing the song “When You Wish Upon a Star,” especially. Actually, my association with it actually goes to that song.

Alan Silvestri: I remember being a young child, seeing it, and I especially remember Pinocchio’s donkey ears, and I didn’t really like that. It scared me a little, because I had told one or two lies in my time, so I was a little bit unnerved by that. But I did love when he was turned into a real boy. I remember those two moments, being a child watching that film.

If you both had this strong emotional connection, was there any trepidation about signing on to the project? Because it really is considered the masterpiece of that early Disney Animation era.

Glen Ballard: We never wanted to let anybody down on this, of course. The motivation was if it was 100%, it’s 110%. If we failed, we would be falling on our swords. Obviously the motivation couldn’t be higher. We had someone who was our great general, Mr. Bob Zemeckis, and his vision for it was so much clearer than a lot of times many directors are. He knew what he wanted to do and it took us a while to get there, but that’s the way it works. It’s a dense – it’s live-action, it’s also animation. But from the very beginning, his script with Chris Weitz was the blueprint.

Alan Silvestri: It was terrifying. But what are you going to do? That’s the job. You have to live with your fear and your terror and you have to work through, and that’s life also with Mr. Zemeckis. Just be prepared to be terrified. And by the way, that terror very often can produce in you, some of the most inspirational work you’ve ever created. Terror could be your friend with Robert Zemeckis.

What was Zemeckis’ direction to both of you? What was he going for and how did he get that across to the both of you?

Glen Ballard: Well, first of all, Mr. Zemeckis and Mr. Silvestri have almost a telepathic communication and …

Alan Silvestri [touching his forehead]: Oh wait, it’s Bob right now.

Glen Ballard: I mean that’s 22 or 23 movies together and when there’re some songs needed, I’m gratefully asked to assist. They are such great storytellers together, and Alan appreciates the fact that I’m interested in making sure that songs help us tell the story. We never want to just drop songs out of nowhere, and Disney understands that too. The whole Disney model is you use songs to help to tell the story. We had a great director who wanted songs to help to tell the story. It wasn’t really a musical, but a lot of the movies that Disney has made over the years are not really musicals. They are kind of musicals, but they’re not really musicals. So, I feel like that’s what “Pinocchio” is.

Alan Silvestri: And Mr. Zemeckis is a very low-pressure guy. You’ll start talking through the story and he’ll go, “Okay, and here’s where you guys are going to write your first classic Christmas song. And then here’s where you’re going to write your second classic Christmas song.” Again, I’m back to terrified.

But he delivers his part, which is giving you a tremendous sense of support and a tremendous sense of freedom. He doesn’t put us in a box. It’s like, “If you guys are thinking of anything, do it and bring it to me because it could be a great idea and I will change the movie.” He’s magnificent in that way as a collaborator.

On the subject of live-action remakes, they are working on “Lilo & Stitch.” Alan, are you involved? Are you coming back? What’s the story there?

Alan Silvestri: I’ve not heard anything other than that it’s being done. That doesn’t mean I’m not coming back because that conversation could be much further down some line. But I have no news fit to print at this time.

Is that something you’d like to revisit?

Alan Silvestri: Oh, sure. Absolutely. It was amazing to be involved in it, and one of the things that’s been most fun over the years is I have three young granddaughters now. I’ve seen that movie over time continue to delight young viewers. And those kinds of films are always tremendous to work on. When a six-year-old’s favorite film is something you did that far back, it’s just amazing to be part of things like that. We’re hoping “Pinocchio” will be that kind of experience as well.

“Pinocchio” is on Disney+ now.