Pinocchio (2022) Review

2022 saw two very different cinematic takes on the classic story of Pinocchio: One was Guillermo del Toro’s unique stop-motion adaptation, and the other was the latest installment in Disney’s seemingly never ending live-action remakes of their animated back catalogue. While no Pinocchio adaptation will ever likely live up to Disney’s animated original, it’s somewhat ironic that between the two 2022 versions, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s film that more lives up to the Disney classic with its unique take on the material. Disney’s own remake, on the other hand, feels like it’s lifelessly going through the motions just to give Disney+ an extra piece of content.

As mentioned, Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio was another entry in their ongoing trend of live-action remakes, which have been a point of contention among Disney fans (if an animated classic is timeless, what’s the point of remaking it? Unless we’re buying into the blatant falsity that live-action somehow makes films more legitimate). To be fair, not all of Disney’s live-action remakes have been bad (the CG showcase that was 2016’s Jungle Book was a spectacle, and 2019’s Aladdin was enjoyable), but by and large these remakes feel mostly unnecessary. Sadly for Pinocchio, it proves to be the rule and not the exception, as it comes across as another live-action remake for the sake of another live-action remake.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the basic outline of Disney’s Pinocchio by this point, but here’s a quick synopsis anyway: an elderly Italian toymaker named Geppetto creates a wooden puppet he names Pinocchio. Gepetto wishes upon a star that Pinocchio could be a real boy, to fill the void Geppetto feels from not having a family (in this version, Geppetto has a dead wife and son, which feels unnecessarily cruel to the old man). The Blue Fairy answers Geppetto’s wish, brings Pinocchio to life, assigns Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio’s conscience, and claims that if Pinocchio proves himself to be “brave, truthful and selfless” he will become a real boy. Naturally, there’s a lot of obstacles that get in the way of Pinocchio’s journey, among them a conman fox, a villainous puppeteer, an angry whale and a conniving Coachman, who takes children to Pleasure Island so that they may make literal jackasses of themselves so he can sell the children-turned-donkeys to salt mines. Yeah, Pinocchio was always a pretty eventful movie.

Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio more or less sticks to the 1940 original’s outline, but fails to capture the charm and spirit that has made the animated film endure for decades. Not even putting Robert Zemeckis – a man known for weaving story and visual effects together – in the director’s chair and casting Tom Hanks as Geppetto helps elevate this Pinocchio retelling into anything above average.

To be fair, Disney’s 2022 Pinocchio has its share of positives: Tom Hanks makes for a convincing Geppetto, and as odd a fit as it may sound, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great as the voice of Jiminy Cricket (Gordon-Levitt does a pretty spot-on Cliff Edwards impression). And for all the people who complain whenever an animated character is redesigned, this Pinocchio looks identical to the 1940 animated character. So you can’t say the film isn’t faithful there. The supporting cast also does there best to liven things up, with Cynthia Erivo as the Blue Fairy, Keegan-Michael Key as the voice of Honest John the fox, and Luke Evans as the evil Coachman (Evans seems to be making a habit of playing the villains in Disney’s live-action remakes, previously portraying Gaston in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast). But really, there’s only so much they’re able to do to liven the film up.

The movie just falls flat at trying to capture the magic of the original at every turn. While When You Wish Upon a Star and I’ve Got No Strings are still present, the new songs added to the film are entirely unmemorable. And while the visual effects on Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Jiminy Cricket do their job, much of the CG in the movie looks surprisingly cheap and unconvincing (we all know Disney can afford better, and we all know Zemeckis can do better in this area). Things look particularly artificial once Pinocchio gets to Pleasure Island, which is created with CG that looks dull and outdated.

Even the themes and tone of the story feel skittish here. The original film is considered one of Disney’s darkest and scariest animated features, and while the new film makes token attempts to capture those elements, it is only willing to go so far. One of the most shocking moments in the original is when Pinocchio’s mischievous friend Lampwick gets turned into a donkey for “making an ass of himself” by smoking, drinking, gambling and causing damage across Pleasure Island. It’s a sad fate that befalls Lampwick, but it’s a fate he made for himself by his actions, which kind of hits home the whole point of Pinocchio’s journey. In the 2022 film, that same scene is played more for laughs, which pulls the rug out from under the scene and weakens its intended purpose in the story. It further cheapens things that Pleasure Island no longer serves cigars and alcohol, instead opting for the more PG root beer in their place. I get that it would be taboo to feature children drinking and smoking in a movie, but isn’t that the point? It’s bad behavior. It’s what Pinocchio needs to learn not to do. Drinking soda pop may not be good judgement in terms of health, but it’s hardly a moral conundrum in the same way alcohol can be.

I have to admit there are a couple of changes that I appreciate. As classic as the 1940 film is, it always annoyed me how the Blue Fairy basically served as a deus ex machina when she rescued Pinocchio from a cage at the hands of Stromboli. Here that’s been changed to Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket using the puppet’s extending nose to reach a key, which makes the characters feel more crafty and independent (though having Pinocchio lie to make his nose grow to get out of the jam may be questionable in its own right). Without spoiling too many details, the ending of the film is even slightly changed in a way to question what it means for Pinocchio to be “real” (it’s a change that’s appreciated in concept, though could have admittedly been executed better). I also like that Geppetto’s infamous cuckoo clocks are now themed around various Disney references (though some of the fun of that idea is taken away when the film gives us too many close-ups of the clocks, which just gives away the references. And the fact that one clock features Roger and Jessica Rabbit only reminds us of an infinitely better Zemeckis film we could be watching). And I suppose Stromboli gets thrown in jail here, so at least one Pinocchio villain finally gets some comeuppance.

I certainly can’t say that 2022’s Pinocchio is the worst of Disney’s live-action remakes, but it does continue the sub-genre’s trend of creating a decidedly inferior version of a classic tale from Disney’s animated history. An unnecessary retelling that just kind of goes through the material, but without the beating heart of the Disney original.

That this live-action remake has made Pinocchio less “real” is an irony that probably won’t be lost on anyone.

4

Pinocchio Review

Pinocchio

Walt Disney Studio’s second-ever animated feature, Pinocchio, is regularly cited as one of their best. Some even hail it as the greatest animated film of all time. While I think Pinocchio boasts some dated tropes that prevent it from reaching the heights it’s often bragged up to, it is nonetheless an undeniably charming animated feature whose entertainment value remains timeless.

Pinocchio opens with the immortal musical number “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a song so endearing (if maybe a tad naive in message), it has remained the “unofficial theme song” of the Walt Disney Studios since the film’s 1940 release. After the iconic Jiminy Cricket finishes up the song, we are introduced to Geppetto, an elderly toymaker who has only his cat Figaro, his fish Cleo, and his endless assortment of wood-carved clocks and toys to keep him company.

Geppetto’s most recent toy is a wooden puppet, whom he names Pinocchio. Geppetto laments that he has grown old and never had a family, so when he sees a wishing star in the sky, he wishes that Pinocchio could be a real boy.

PinocchioMuch to Geppetto’s surprise, his wish comes true. During his sleep, the Blue Fairy appears from the wishing star, and claims that because Geppetto has given so much happiness to others, he deserves to have his wish come true. The Blue Fairy gives Pinocchio life, though he is still made of wood. She¬†promises that if Pinocchio can prove himself brave, truthful and unselfish, he can become a real boy. The Blue Fairy then appoints Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio’s conscience, to help lead Pinocchio down the proper path.

Geppetto is ecstatic that he now has a son of his own, and wishes to raise Pinocchio as you would any child. He sends Pinocchio to school, but on his way, Pinocchio runs into a dastardly fox named “Honest” John and his cat partner Gideon, who convince Pinocchio to skip school and join the theater, which sets off an adventure for Pinocchio that will test his ability to keep the promise he made to the Blue Fairy.

Much like Snow White before it, Pinocchio is an earnest and simple (and more family appropriate) adaptation of the fairy tale it’s based on. Where Pinocchio actually betters its revolutionary predecessor, however, is that its story contains a good deal of lessons and themes, and may have actually inspired the trend of most animated films containing messages and life lessons that continues even today.

PinocchioThe themes here are pretty self-explanatory (lying is wrong, taking the easy road is never a good answer, etc.), but they definitely work, and are certainly hard to argue against. Pinocchio is an empty vessel (being born through magic and skipping the first few years of life will do that, I suppose), and so having his adventure be one that constantly plays tug-of-war with his moral influences is pretty much a perfect narrative decision.

Admittedly less perfect, however, are some of the narrative devices in which Pinocchio gets out of some of his jams. Namely, the way in which the Blue Fairy reappears as a deus ex machina on a number of occasions, which kind of cheapens Pinocchio’s dilemmas. One particular instance sees her magically appear to free Pinocchio from the cage of the maniacal puppet master Stromboli, after Jiminy Cricket unsuccessfully attempted to do the same. I almost feel guilty for claiming a film this iconic could have done better, but I have to admit to just that. The scene would have worked better had Jiminy freed Pinocchio, as it would have made the struggle feel more real. Sure, the terrific scene of Pinocchio’s nose growing as he tells lies to the Blue Fairy takes place here, but it could have happened without resorting to the drama being instantaneously resolved through magic.

Sadly, that’s not the only instance either. Even after the Blue Fairy claims it’s the last time she can help Pinocchio out of a jam, she still manages to magically push the plot forward later by telling Pinocchio what’s going on and where to go.

Still, even with these aged plot devices, the film as a whole is just too charming for them to get in the way of the enjoyment too much. The situations Pinocchio finds himself in are entertaining and, at times, genuinely terrifying. And whereas most Disney films have an iconic villain to fall back on, Pinocchio runs into a parade of evildoers when all is said and done.

Honest JohnAlong with the aforementioned “Honest” John, Gideon and Stromboli, there’s also the vile Coachman, who guides “stupid young boys” to Pleasure Island – a kind of haven for anarchy and delinquency¬†– where their bad behavior and lack of decency makes literal jackasses out of them. Then there’s Lampwick, one of the boys on Pleasure Island who is a considerable negative influence on the naive Pinocchio. And Monstro, a whale so beastly he lives up to his name.

The film is filled with many memorable and iconic scenes, both happy and chipper as well as dark and scary. There’s a brutal honesty to the film that you won’t see very often in children’s films these days. In any other Disney movie, everyone but the villain would see a happy ending. But here, the boys who are transformed into donkeys and sent to slave away in salt mines aren’t so lucky. They did wrong, and pay for it at a high price.

It goes without saying that Pinocchio is also a beautifully animated film. In fact, it remains one of Disney’s most lavishly animated films to date. Even after over seven and a half decades, the film still looks great. I’m not sure there’s a technical blip to speak of. The characters are vividly designed, move fluidly, and the backgrounds are consistently striking. Perhaps more notably, the film is almost constantly tinkering with different animation techniques. It almost feels like Snow White was the warm up, and Pinocchio was the chance for the filmmakers to go all out with what they could pull off with the animation.

As is the case with any great Disney film, the songs are memorable and catchy (even if “When You Wish Upon a Star” seems to outshine the others in most people’s memories). The songs help keep the film moving at a fun pace, and help lighten the mood even after the film gets into its darker territory.

Pinocchio remains a classic in the world of animation. It’s true, the deus ex machinas do cheapen some of the narrative structure, and much like Snow White, I feel like Disney has bettered the formula in numerous ways in the decades since Pinocchio’s release. But there’s no doubt about it, Pinocchio has earned a strong reputation for its memorable characters, consistent entertainment, and for not sugar coating its consequences for its target audience. It’s a Disney classic for a reason, and that’s no lie.

 

7