Disney’s live-action Pinocchio a delight for kids, but may disappoint fans who loved the original
The story changes quite a lot from the 1940 original cartoon in an effort to be more child-friendly.
In celebration of Disney+ Day earlier this month, the streaming service released a remake of one of its most beloved titles: Pinocchio.
The original premiered in 1940 and has the honour of being Disney’s second ever animated film after Snow White. It follows a wooden puppet and his conscience Jiminy Cricket as they’re whisked on an involuntary adventure, after the Blue Fairy who gave Pinocchio sentience deems that he can only ‘become a real boy’ if he learns how to be brave, truthful and unselfish.
The remake keeps the original’s essence, but cleans up some of the more questionable scenes and plot points that wouldn’t be acceptable in today’s more socially-conscious age.
Some of the changes are welcome, like how the loving father Geppetto doesn’t wield a gun in this one. However, some of these creative choices make the remake feel hollow in comparison to the classic.
Don’t get me wrong, the 2022 version creates whimsy in many ways. Jiminy Cricket’s gravity-defying adventure into Geppetto’s shop is delightful, and all the puppets are (thankfully) animated to feel more like toys than uncanny imitations of life (looking at you, The Lion King).
However, one of the charms of the 1940 version was how it depicted the world through Pinocchio’s eyes – everything he saw was novel, amazing or terrifying as you’d expect of a child seeing the world for the first time.
For example, in the original Monstro the whale was depicted as just that – a whale. Large and scary, as a sperm whale would be to a small wooden boy, but still very much an aquatic animal.
In the 2022 version however (and this is our only spoiler for the new version), the beast is reduced to a CGI kaiju, down to the spiky fins and… tentacles? It still looks like a whale, but the fear factor gets lost in an effort to make it look cool.
With the entire main cast save Tom Hanks’ Geppetto being CGI, the movie also feels odd to watch. The colours pop and the settings are sleek, but watching one real actor try to create chemistry with characters that had to be added in post-production dips the film into the uncanny valley, and at times causes scenes to veer from whimsical to cringy.
Apart from that, the entire movie’s tone has shifted from the original in a bid to make it more child-friendly.
While the 1940 version told the story of a mischievous little ‘boy’ being introduced to and slowly tainted by the real world, the 2022 version presents our protagonist as an innocent child that gets taken advantage of due to his naivete.
Sure, director Robert Zemeckis wouldn’t have gotten away with Pinocchio smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol like in the 1940 version.
However, by stripping away every aspect of the original Pinocchio’s personality, this version doesn’t feel like he’s making his own decisions in his quest to become a real boy – and consequently doesn’t feel like a character you can get attached to.
That being said, the film’s good points can’t be undersold either. Tom Hanks plays the jovial, loving Geppetto to a T, and industry newcomer Benjamin Evan Ainsworth perfectly voices a cheery and guileless Pinocchio.
Jiminy Cricket, the Blue Fairy and The Fox are all played by Hollywood veterans Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cynthia Erivo and Keegan-Michael Key respectively. Their strengths shine through their characters; be it Erivo’s classy but sarcastic mystique, or Key’s over-the-top portrayal of villainy.
The soundtrack also helps to elevate the movie’s sense of whimsy, and every song is as good as you’d expect coming from Disney. I’ve Got No Strings remains as catchy as the version from 82 years ago, and a ballad from a new character is unexpectedly touching.
Overall, the remake is a polished, modern update to the 1940 version – perfect if you want to introduce your kids to the classics sans the violence and substance abuse.
However, if CGI-heavy movies aren’t your thing, this may just feel like another hollow live-action addition to Disney’s steadily evolving pantheon.