Review: ‘Pinocchio’ on Disney+ is a new low for live-action remakes

Disney’s “Pinocchio” is yet another lifeless live-action remake of a classic animated film.

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The most recent remake of the classic cartoon film “Pinocchio” lacked the charm of the original. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Ferris Elaraby, Contributing Writer

Riding on the success of its first feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” Disney released “Pinocchio” in 1940. Now a highly respected and revered staple of animation history, the film proved the company was capable of producing animated features of the highest quality. However, following the likes of 2019’s “The Lion King” and 2020’s “Mulan,” “Pinocchio” has now been turned into a low-effort live-action remake that not only loses all of its charm, but completely misses the point of the original.

Before delving into any deeper criticisms of the film, it’s worth noting that “Pinocchio” is simply aesthetically unpleasant. With only a few live-action elements and characters, the film consists mostly of flimsy digital effects. The quaint and charming town that Geppetto inhabits in the original film is completely lifeless, devoid of any striking colors, quirks or even townsfolk. The original film boasted a beautiful blend of painstakingly-detailed background illustrations and lively foreground animations. Almost any frame of the original “Pinocchio” could stand as a self-contained work of art. Its 2022 counterpart, on the other hand, fails to create any sense of visual wonder or awe.

“Pinocchio” heavily leans on its bare-bones computer-generated imagery when it could have easily utilized practical effects or props. For instance, the film inexplicably portrays children drinking root beer out of digital mugs rather than physical props. Even Geppetto’s cat, Figaro, and fish, Cleo, are completely computer-generated. Speaking of Geppetto, it’s hard to get the sense that he’s really interacting with anything in his environment, given that everything around him was added in postproduction. 

This disconnect between what’s real and digital reaches its climax with the introduction of the Blue Fairy. The original film brought a great sense of life to the character through rotoscoping — an innovative technique at the time where a live actress’ performance was traced frame-by-frame into the animation. In the 2022 “Pinocchio,” however, the Blue Fairy seems incredibly distant, as the limited interaction she has with her environment makes it clear that the actress’ scenes were filmed on an off-set green screen. 

The titular character himself looks like he’s made of plastic rather than wood. One would think that a live-action remake of “Pinocchio” would at least give artists the chance to portray the character in striking detail, with various chips, scratches and splinters covering his wooden frame. His animation, too, could’ve emphasized the fact that he’s a puppet, with floaty movement and jostling joints. However, Pinocchio’s design and animation is so sterile that Jiminy Cricket’s freakishly detailed insectoid design looks great in comparison.

Just like his plain design, Pinocchio’s character arc has been sanded down. Throughout the film, Pinocchio has been stripped of any agency and simply goes where the plot demands. Rather than choosing to join the puppet show for fame like he does in the original, Pinocchio is merely funneled into it after being kicked out of school in the remake. This lack of agency is even worse in the film’s Pleasure Island sequence. Where the original film saw Pinocchio actively taking part in and enjoying the theme park’s vices, the remake relegates him to an unwilling spectator, too timid to even enjoy a fast-paced roller coaster ride.

Taking Pinocchio’s agency away ultimately debases his character arc. He no longer struggles to practice honesty and decency to become a real boy because he already exhibits these characteristics from the very start of the movie — what drives him from one predicament to the next is merely his foolishness and passivity. This all culminates in a dull, confusing climax. The remake sees Pinocchio becoming a real boy after shedding a few tears for a dead Geppetto after the Monstro chase — tears which also end up reviving Geppetto, for some reason. 

This climax doesn’t represent the character growing or breaking any new ground. If Pinocchio becoming a real boy was solely contingent on his sense of empathy, he’d be a real boy before he even left home. The original film, on the other hand, had Pinocchio choose to sacrifice himself for Geppetto. This decision starkly contrasts with his past behavior and casts his character in a new light. It’s only after he gives his own life and demonstrates selflessness and bravery that Pinocchio becomes a real boy and completes his journey.

Even Jiminy has been heavily watered-down in the remake. Rather than an actual character with a growing and changing relationship with Pinocchio, Jiminy is portrayed as a one-note source of comic relief. There were multiple instances in the original film in which Jiminy would feel demoralized during his journey to help Pinocchio, where his frustration would fuel his decision to leave. The remake, however, doesn’t give him much to say or do aside from inadvertently getting separated from Pinocchio.

All Disney live-action remakes have been doomed to failure before even being released; no matter how good they are, they can’t possibly hope to surpass or even match their predecessors. Even the very best of these remakes, 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast” (2017), was just the same as the original but slightly worse. These films were originally intended for the medium of animation, so translating them into live-action loses the expression and zest found in animation. The most egregious example of this would be “The Lion King” remake from 2019, which looked more like a mundane nature documentary instead of the exciting Shakespearean epic that was the original. 

Most importantly, Disney’s serial remaking of classic films feels like a delegitimization of animation in filmmaking and storytelling, as if live-action is the “real” way to experience these stories. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth, as contemporary animation studios such as Studio Ghibli and Pixar have put out what many consider to be among the best films of all time. More recent projects such as Netflix’s “Arcane” and Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” have proved that there is still room for innovation and creativity in animation, hopefully setting the stage for an exciting new era of animated films.

Contact Ferris Elaraby at [email protected]