Disney Remake Fails To Breathe New Life Into Old Story

ytsfreeSeptember 8, 2022

Disney’s live-action adaptations of its animated classics have been nothing if not divisive. Just look at 2019’s The Lion King as an example. Jon Favreau’s adaptation of the 1994 movie was criticized for being too realistic, the emotion sapped out of the animals and replaced with stone-faced CGI creatures. Others, like Aladdin and Beauty & the Beast​​​​​, were too beholden to their source material, afraid to change something that already worked. These films have been largely successful because of that, though, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Not one to mess with a good thing, Disney does the same with Pinocchio. Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of the Golden Age classic adapts the 1940 animated film almost beat-for-beat. While it’s visually stunning at times, there’s a robotic undercurrent that somehow makes the film feel lifeless even as the titular puppet is brought to life.

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Tom Hanks stars as Geppetto, the Italian woodworker and toymaker introduced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Jiminy Cricket in the opening moments of the film. Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is a puppet wished to life by Geppetto, with Cynthia Erivo playing the Blue Fairy who turns him into a living wooden boy. Anyone familiar with the original movie knows what happens from here — Pinocchio is ensnared by red fox Honest John (Keegan Michael-Key) to join Stromboli’s puppet show, sending him on a journey to learn the difference between right and wrong and what it truly means to be a real boy.


Related: Why Netflix & Disney Both Have Pinocchio Movies In 2022

Pinocchio is releasing on Disney+, a decision made after the middling returns of the live-action adaptation of Dumbo. As a beloved classic in Disney’s repertoire, it was only a matter of time before the studio adapted the film, but like Dumbo, it’s clear the movie won’t resonate the same way other adaptations have. There are some visually stunning scenes (all taking place in the back half of the movie), guided by Zemeckis’ steady hand, but it’s nothing ground-breaking. The Pleasure Island sequence is a standout, with Luke Evans’ performance as The Coachman adding the darkness necessary for the haunting scenes that follow. This also reveals Pinocchio‘s biggest problem.


Whether because of its release on Disney+ or the studio’s trend of sanitizing older stories of their bleak origins, Pinocchio‘s story is sterilized in the process of being brought to life. The underlying morality tale is still present, but the convenience with which a conclusion is reached will be noticed by anyone who had nightmares of donkeys and sinister coach drivers as a result of seeing the movie at a young age. This doesn’t hinder the entire affair, and it’s certain to resonate with children who are being introduced to the tale for the first time, but it does highlight an underlying problem with Disney live-action adaptations.


Films like Pinocchio and its live-action predecessors play it too safe with their source material, failing to justify their existence by adding anything new to a story that has been told time and time again. When put up against Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Pinocchio movie, a stop-motion animated affair that places the story in 1930s Fascist Italy, this contrast becomes starker for the titular wooden puppet. What this means for future adaptations of Disney’s animated films remains unclear. The Little Mermaid certainly shows promise, if only because of the cast and creators behind the project, as does Hercules, which is ripe for a live-action retelling and will be helmed by Aladdin director Guy Ritchie.


Disney has no trouble attracting big-name talent to these adaptations and the cast of Pinocchio is no different. Hanks feels right as Geppetto and his performance is leagues away from his disastrous turn in Elvis earlier this year. Erivo is criminally underused in a role that doesn’t have much to give anyway and Ainsworth, who appeared in Netflix’s The Sandman just last month, brings Pinocchio to life with a familiarity that feels comforting. Still, the underlying feeling that this tale didn’t need to be retold doesn’t let up. Not even toying with the original story’s ending does much in the way of rationalizing the spectacle.

Martin Scorsese once famously compared Disney’s Marvel movies to theme parks, but those comments, which ignited a tired debate that still rages on today, feel more applicable to movies like Pinocchio than the blockbuster superhero spectacles he was referring to. Despite being about a wooden puppet brought to life, Pinocchio feels lifeless, ticking boxes on its way towards an inevitable conclusion, rather than something that represents the magic of the movies. It’s quite ironic considering the song “When You Wish Upon A Star” became Disney’s unofficial theme song after being sung by Jiminy Cricket in the original film. The live-action Pinocchio naturally brings the song back, but the movie needed more than a wish. It needed something to make it feel fresh beyond dazzling visuals, but by stripping away much of what made the first film great, Pinocchio feels like the same old story, even if its fantastical elements shine onscreen.


Pinocchio is available to stream on Disney+ on September 8. The film is rated PG peril/scary moments, rude material and some language and is 105 minutes long.

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  • Pinocchio Live action Key Art Poster

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