'Pinocchio' Review: Disney's Adapted Masterpiece To Fuel Live-Action Nightmare

‘Pinocchio’ Review: Disney’s Adapted Masterpiece To Fuel Live-Action Nightmare


Only the second animated feature ever produced by Disney, 1940’s Pinocchio isn’t just arguably the best animated film made by the company, it could be the greatest animated film ever made. After the success of their first film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney pushed the possibilities of the medium even further with breathtaking technological innovations, unforgettable scenarios and characters, and some of the most iconic songs ever put in a Disney film. With just their second film, Disney was able to prove that their success with animation wasn’t just a fluke, it was an entirely new and impressive way to create whole new worlds and craft masterful stories.

At this point, Disney can certainly still innovate, but it seems like they’re far more interested in settling for giving us stories we’ve already seen in different ways. Over the last decade, this has frequently come in the form of live action remakes, some of which are fairly straightforward retellings of the originals (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King), while others have at least attempted to show a new side of a classic story (Maleficent, Cruella). But regardless of how great these live action remakes have been, few people would say that they match the beauty, power, or overwhelming magic of the original films. With Disney finally bringing Pinocchio to live action, the gulf between the quality of the original and the live action version has rarely been this massive.

Even before the Disney logo has left the screen, it’s already obvious that Robert Emesis’ take is going to make some questionable choices. “When You Wish Upon a Star” has become so ubiquitous to Disney that it’s even in their logo—a perfect opportunity for Jiminy Cricket to pop into frame. Voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this version of Jiminy sounds like Matthew McConaughey trying to do an impression of the Gingerbread Man from Shrek. Jiminy eventually leads us to the house of Geppetto (Tom Hanks), an Italian woodcarver who is putting the finishing touches on his newest creation, a puppet by the name of Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).

Pinocchio follows the same basic narrative beats as the 1940 animated version, as Pinocchio comes to life, then attempts to become a real boy as he has to face challenges, adventures, and tough choices that threaten his goal. But before Pinocchio can even leave Geppetto’s home, it’s already clear that while the story might be familiar, the magic just isn’t there. Even if we already love these characters and this quest that the wooden boy has to undergo, the spark is missing. It’s as if in order to bring Pinocchio to life, The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) zapped the rest of this world of its magic.

One of the most confounding aspects of these remakes is that while they purport to be live action, they’re primarily utilizing animation to bring these worlds to life—and often to a fault. Even elements that could’ve been created practically are handed over to animation. Take, for example, Geppetto’s home, full of pets and imaginative cuckoo clocks. In this version, Cleo the Goldfish and Figaro the Cat are both animated, as if real-life cats and goldfish are so hard to come by. Sure, they might not have the same amount of life as the animated versions did, but they’re also not unsettling, stuck in a strange uncanny valley of trying to look real, but not quite right. Similarly, Geppetto’s wall of cuckoo clocks is turned into an animated way for Disney to reference their past films, an unnecessary attempt to throw in a few blink-or-you’ll-miss-it winks at the audience.

But as Pinocchio’s world grows larger, so does the reliance on animation. The Pleasure Island of this “live action” version is just as animated as the 1940 film—which in some ways makes sense—but even the simplest scenes seem superfluously created in a computer. Like 2019’s The Lion King live action doesn’t necessarily mean “reality,” but rather, that it looks slightly more realistic than the animated originals.

This version of Pinocchio also showcases just how elegantly simple the animated film was in its plot and character development. We didn’t need to know why Geppetto was lonely enough to hope a wooden boy he created would come to life, the fact that he crafted this figure in the first place said wonders about who this man was. In this tale, written by Zemeckis and Chris Weitz, any subtext must be made text. Geppetto’s way of talking to his animals and his creations becomes a tool for exposition—including explaining what happened to his family, and why he keeps so many cuckoo clocks.

While some live action remakes have thrived in what they add to the original story, Pinocchio does the exact opposite. This Pinocchio introduces Sofia, a seagull who helps Jiminy, that is voiced by Lorraine Bracco, and Fabiana (Kyanne Lamaya), a puppeteer at Stromboli’s show who befriends Pinocchio as he tries to make his way back home. Both of these characters seem to exist to provide friendly faces along this journey to ensure this story doesn’t get too bleak, and yet, they still feel wholly unnecessary. The same can be said of the awful attempts to insert modern humor into this story. Especially with the arrival of Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), we get jokes like saying Pinocchio could become a celebrity or an “influencer,” and suggests that a good name for a wooden boy would be “Chris Pine.” There’s even a scene where Pinocchio curiously plays with horse shit, if that’s what you’ve felt like the original was missing.

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