Disney’s most recent remake, Pinocchio, hit Disney+ this Thursday. I consider the 1940 original one of their best in terms of character development, and it has a timeless charm that modern films rarely capture. I didn’t have much hope for the remake when it was announced; Disney’s neverending barrage of remakes constitutes a very mixed bag. My favorites among the live-action remakes have done something different to distinguish themselves from the animated movies. They’re also usually based on movies I have no particular emotional attachment to, like The Jungle Book and Cinderella. Pinocchio is, to me, essentially a perfect movie because I wouldn’t change anything about it. So I didn’t think remaking it made much sense, even with Tom Hanks starring as Geppetto. The remake also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiminy Cricket, Keegan-Michael Key as Honest John, Luke Evans as the coach master to Pleasure Island, and more. Get your wishes ready, and let’s dive in.
Much like the animated film, Pinocchio finds a lonely old woodcarver named Geppetto (Tom Hanks) wishing upon a star for a son. The kindly Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) grants his humble wish, bringing his marionette puppet to life. The story kicks off when Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) gets lost on his way to school, falls in with Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key), Stromboli (Giuseppe Battison), and eventually ends up on Pleasure Island. If Pinocchio wants to become a real boy, he must prove himself brave, truthful, and unselfish. Can he get home and make his father proud?
I’d like to discuss the most uneven facet of the film first: the visuals. The costumes in Pinocchio are gorgeous and detailed. The sets look nice, though they’re nothing like Cinderella or The Jungle Book. The inconsistency comes in the film’s CGI; Honest John and Gideon look pretty good. But “realistic” animals like Gepetto’s car Figaro look distractingly fake, and Pinocchio never looks like he’s really there. This is especially noticeable when humans pick him up; there are shots where you can actually see Geppetto or Stromboli’s hands shifting through Pinocchio’s torso. There are also a couple of really gorgeous shots, such as the blue-tinged scene inside Monstro’s belly.
I can’t recall for sure, but I believe Monstro is only referred to as a whale in the 1940 film. I’m surprised and confused by this movie’s choice to call him a sea monster and give him tentacles. It doesn’t look very convincing and adds nothing to the story. There are a few aberrations like this sprinkled throughout the film. The character of Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya) and, by extension, her puppet Sabina, is one such addition. Then we have the opening scene with Geppetto: here, it’s much longer and more detailed. He talks about a dead wife and son Pinocchio is intended to replace. I don’t think this serves the story; it just adds screen time, and the details raise more questions than they answer. Geppetto is a lonely old man who wants a family, whether he used to have one or not. I imagine this detail may originate from the original novel, which I haven’t read. I’d love to hear from you if anyone has any insight on that!
Regarding Figaro, I don’t understand why they didn’t just use a real cat. Disney seems to lack any understanding of when to use CGI or practical effects. I prefer the latter, but both have their uses and applications. You have something like The Lion King (2019), where I think they could have gone for a more expressive look rather than making the lions look “real.” Here, Figaro looks silly, and it’s never believable that he’s really there. This is distracting when something serious is supposed to be happening. I also don’t think Pinocchio had to look exactly like his animated counterpart, but that’s a nitpick, and I realize Disney is banking on brand recognition here.
I also think the Disney references are a little heavy-handed. I love Easter eggs, and I must admit I cracked a smile at Jessica and Roger Rabbit popping out of a clock to kiss. But they really went all-out with this, and it is distracting. We see Woody, Donald Duck, Maleficent, Princess Aurora, and more pop out of Geppetto’s creations. In a better movie, I may see this as a loving homage to Walt’s characters and legacy. But in this mish-mash of tones and influences, it just feels like a desperate nostalgia grab. And Woody’s clock says “A-OK Corral,” which just strikes me as dumb and, again, distracting in this setting.
One area where Pinocchio excels is the performances. This is a surprisingly good cast for a straight-to-streaming Disney remake. Tom Hanks is charming and believable as Geppetto. This is doubly impressive when he mainly interacts with characters that aren’t really there, like Pinocchio, Figaro, and Jiminy. Keegan-Michael Key is great as Honest John, both singing and in line delivery. I think Giuseppe Battison overacts in the role of Stromboli. I know this character was larger than life in the original, but it feels out of place in live-action. I’m more inclined to blame this on director Robert Zemeckis than Battison. Kyanne Lamaya is likable as Fabiana, even if her addition serves no real purpose.
Pleasure Island is beyond neutered in this version. As people have already observed, the beer is replaced with root beer, which makes no sense. Kids can already have root beer, and it doesn’t alter their mental state like alcohol. “Contempt corner” is ridiculous. All the kids pick up signs and shout at each other, and this is supposed to be a serious scene. The scene where they smash clocks is also strange, and I don’t get the point. We’ve already seen the kids breaking windows and throwing bricks, so this is just beating a dead horse.
Overall, Pinocchio isn’t good, but I don’t hate it. This movie has some good things going for it, but the problem is that the animated film has all of it and more. Pinocchio 2022 has too much exposition, a less engaging protagonist, and inconsistent visuals. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s not the worst remake they’ve made. In all seriousness, one of my grievances is the movie’s tendency to borrow from other films, aside from the original Pinocchio. The scene where Pinocchio paddles away from Monstro is just like Dash propelling his mom and sister to shore in The Incredibles. Likewise, when he revives Geppetto, it’s just like Rapunzel saving Eugene in Tangled with her tears! In Tangled, this was a reference to the original Rapunzel tale in which she restored the Prince’s sight with her tears. But here, it’s silly and a reversal of the animated one, in which Pinocchio had to be woken up. I would say if you have Disney+ and just really love Tom Hanks, go for it. But I wouldn’t recommend this to Pinocchio fans, Disney fans, or even movie fans in general.