The 1940 Disney rendition of Pinocchio is a tough nut to crack. Many historians have acknowledged the beauty of the animation, especially for the time, but some are torn on its enduring quality over the last eight decades. As far as live action remakes go, it’s definitely high on the list for Disney because of how synonymous it is with the company name, but this rendition could have used more time in the oven.
For the most part, this is the same story of Pinocchio being wished into existence as a puppet, and starting his quest to be a real boy. We immediately get a dialogue-driven Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) framing device, who drops in with a fourth wall breaking monologue that speaks to his younger self (amid some meta jokes and modern references from several other characters). It’s an odd film out of the gate.
We not only have the familiar Tom Hanks in the role of Geppetto (who plays it extremely hammy, and wanders around aimlessly for most of the movie, just like the Disney original), but Robert Zemeckis in the director’s chair. Zemeckis hasn’t had a bona fide success since 2012’s Flight—and even then that’s debatable—and it’s hard to really say he adds anything of value in the new 2022 rendition of Pinocchio. Accounting for some of the film’s cheap effects, it feels like it could have been made anytime in the last 30 years.
Disney fans will likely enjoy a few cameos (in the form of Geppetto’s clocks), and there are a few nuanced changes to the story, but it follows mostly the same beats as the original Disney narrative. It really brings the whole live action adaptation debate back to the forefront; on how filmmakers should proceed with these sorts of projects.
“Driven by Robert Zemeckis’ career path, Pinocchio (2022) drowns in the same excess highlighted in Pleasure Island.”
Is it worth completely remaking them from the ground up like Cruella? Or should creators painstakingly re-tell them like The Lion King? While there isn’t a right answer (if one aims to account for box office returns and overall film quality), Pinocchio, a Disney+ exclusive, probably isn’t going to add anything meaningful to that discussion.
Pinocchio is cute, and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth gives us a likeable performance, but the film lacks the tension and dark nature of the original Disney production. Pinocchio’s captivity with Stromboli and the Coachman were genuinely terrifying prospects at times in the cartoon, but the live action remake attempts to alleviate some of these scenes with droplets of hope and action, often spurred on by new creations.
The Pleasure Island sequence is especially on the nose, and far less effective as a way to showcase how inherently uncomfortable Pinocchio is with mischief and mayhem. Interestingly enough, Pinocchio feels like a miniseries crammed into a film.
A lot of the cast simply exists to move our hero from place to place, and while the live action version attempts to give them time to shine, they’re often quickly shuffled off-screen, sometimes never to be seen again (I would have liked to have seen more from Keegan-Michael Key’s Honest John).
Driven by Robert Zemeckis’ career path, Pinocchio (2022) drowns in the same excess highlighted in Pleasure Island.