Disney's Pinocchio Review: Re-Watch The Original Instead Of This Wooden Remake

"Pinocchio" is the latest Disney animated film to get an updated "live-action" remake in our contemporary times. The 1940 original is rightfully a classic — a film that pushed the boundary of what animation can bring to the screen and a story about a boy's earnest search to find out who he is. Robert Zemeckis' remake, however, fails to capture the heart of the original. It's poorly paced, full of actors talking in multiple variants of accented English that make Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent seem good in comparison, and delivers major characters who are stilted, disjointed, and lacking life.

The story of Zemeckis' "Pinocchio" largely follows that of the original film, inspired by "The Adventures of Pinocchio" by Carlo Collodi. An old woodworker named Geppetto wishes on a star for Pinocchio, a wooden puppet he made, to become a real boy. Geppetto gets his wish, although Pinocchio remains made of wood and must prove himself to become "a real boy." With Jiminy Cricket as his conscience, Pinocchio faces unexpected adventures such as becoming famous (and summarily exploited and imprisoned for it); getting sent to a place called Pleasure Island where bad children literally become jackasses; and culminates inside the belly of a giant sea monster. Throughout this journey, Pinocchio learns to be brave, truthful, and unselfish. Just like a real boy.

The original Disney movie came out over 80 years ago and is a product of its time. And as such, the remake updates certain things that haven't fared well over the decades (you won't, for example, see any kids sucking on cigarettes and getting wasted). Those are welcome changes, but the movie fails on almost every other front, even though the major plot points are essentially the same. It's like someone put all the components of the original into a blender and turned the appliance on without a lid. The result is a big old mess; a story barely cobbled together by a series of painfully bad jokes and horrific Southern, French, Italian, and New York "Newsies" accents.

The movie has some good moments, but not many

Before I get into the bad, let me give credit to the good in "Pinocchio." The movie does contain moments that aren't terrible. Cynthia Erivo's Blue Fairy, the magical being who bestows Pinocchio with sentience, has empathy and warmth that's hard to find elsewhere in the film. Jaquita Ta'le's performance as the puppeteer that befriends Pinocchio is also a bright spot in a tale full of garish characters whose personalities are as flimsy and superficial as the production's visual effects.

Other good things? For those of you who like Easter eggs, Geppetto's cuckoo clocks might do something for you, as we see renditions of everything from "Snow White" to "Roger Rabbit" in the clock's designs. For those of you who don't like overly obvious references to Disney's IP portfolio, however, these references might just be another thing that makes you want to hurl your remote at your television.

One of the best things I can say about the movie is that it likely won't be one that your child will want to watch over and over, which means you won't have to, either. It starts out slow, with Geppetto (a befuddled Tom Hanks) giving a 20-minute rambling soliloquy about how he misses his dead wife and son and how he made a wooden boy puppet to fill his lonely days. Why didn't he make a new son the more conventional way? As Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Jiminy Cricket explains later in his horrific pseudo-Southern accent, poor ol' Geppetto doesn't get out much. Apologies if you — like I did after Jiminy's observation — get some imagery in your head that you never asked for. I'm just thankful that Geppetto decided to make a wooden replica of his dead son rather than his wife, although a Geppetto version of "Lars and the Real Girl" would arguably be a more intriguing and thought-provoking movie to watch.

A not-great movie with a muddled message

If you and/or your child make it past the first 20 or so minutes of "Pinocchio," you'll be submitted to a series of wisecracks about Pinocchio being made of pine wood, so much so that you might think this is a crucial piece of information that comes into play later (reader, it does not, although you will be subjected to a horrible Chris Pine punchline). You'll also have to endure the movie's lackluster visual effects. It's clear Disney knew it didn't have a "Lion King" live-action remake on its hands and cut the budget accordingly. The CGI characters' uncanny valleys are deep, and the spectacle of Pleasure Island is poorly rendered to the point of distraction. Pinocchio himself looks decent, although he did the "I can rotate my head 360 degrees" bit a few too many times, reminding you that puppets — even ones as annoyingly earnest as Pinocchio — are just plain creepy.

Monstro, the giant sea monster who swallows Pinocchio and Geppetto whole, is also suitably scary and one of the less-bad things about the film, especially the monster's insides, which captures glimmers of the dark-yet-adventurous tone that I yearned for throughout the film.

And while the ending thankfully veers away from the message that one should strive to change themselves to make their parents happy, the "twist" occurs almost as an afterthought and is given barely a minute of genuflection before the credits begin. That crucial moment could be easily missed by a young person or a casual viewer, and in a worst-case scenario, might leave them thinking the opposite of the ultimate message the movie is trying to convey.

That's not great, much like the rest of the movie. And as a parent myself, if faced with the choice of watching this film again with my child versus caving into her request to watch "Frozen" for the 35th million time, I would unhesitatingly get ready to hear "Let It Go" than rewatch this remake.

/Film Rating: 3 out of 10

"Pinocchio" starts streaming on Disney+ on September 8, 2022.