Disney’s live-action remakes have garnered a reputation for being visually spectacular, though ultimately soulless, and padded-out copies of the original. The latest addition to this list of never-ending remakes is Pinocchio, which is no exception to this current trend. In fact, it might just be the worst one yet.
Unceremoniously dumped on Disney+ with little fanfare, Robert Zemeckis’s version of the fairy tale sees Tom Hanks as kindly craftsman Geppetto. Hanks’s soft-spoken tenderness instantly wins over audiences, though this version of the character removes any nuance about his backstory. It’s made abundantly clear that he’s lost his wife and son, who he keeps a framed picture of close at hand. From the clothes the boy’s wearing, the implication is the puppet he’s just completed is a surrogate version of the child he lost. While a small change, it’s an unnecessary one which doesn’t take advantage of the new ideas it brings to the table.
With a sprinkle of fairy magic, the titular puppet (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is brought to life. And, with the help of his newly appointed conscious, Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his journey to becoming a real boy follows the outline of the original plot. However, each iconic scene (especially the nightmarish imagery from Pleasure Island) has had its edges softened to be the safest interpretation of this cautionary tale of “stranger danger” and consequences.
While there’s a spattering of fun new ideas, like Stromboli’s (Giuseppe Battiston) puppet show being a steampunk-like contraption, most of the new additions are baffling, the strangest of which is the decision to give the wooden boy a love interest in the form of a ballerina puppet – which is made all the stranger since that puppet is controlled by a young girl (Kyanne Lamaya). Aside from performing a new song, this character serves no real purpose.
Despite its visual grandeur, this is a hideous film. Both the character models for Pinocchio and Jiminy stray too close to the uncanny valley for them to be cute. There’s something deeply unsettling about the puppet’s CGI smile that recalls the creepy children in Zemeckis’s Polar Express, and it’s even weirder seeing it interact with the real Tom Hanks.
While Pinocchio has some new ideas and songs, it’s plagued by the same issues of every other live-action remake. Hopefully Guillermo del Toro’s forthcoming Pinocchio will be the reimagining audiences were hoping for.
Pinocchio is released on Disney+ on 8th September 2022.
Watch the trailer for Pinocchio here: