Pinocchio Review – This 2022 Remake Fails to Become a Real Movie

In 1940 Disney made one of its gold-standard animations in the form of a loose adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s moral tale Pinocchio. There is no underestimating how important the film was for Disney (and animation in general) with the song “When You Wish Upon A Star” eventually becoming the tune the company would adopt as its theme. Eventually a live action version of the classic was going to happen for good or bad. Disney has been pumping out live action version of its classics for a while and they vary greatly in quality, but one thing is certain, they never live up to the original animations. Feted director Robert Zemeckis helms the new adaptation and there was hope that someone with as much experience in blending animation and live action would bring something spectacular to the table. Sadly, this is not the case.

We can assume most people know the premise of Pinocchio but just in case you’ve recently arrived from another planet it goes something like this…

Lonely carpenter and clockmaker Geppetto (Tom Hanks) whiles away his hours creating fantastic objects. He creates a marionette, Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and when Geppetto sees the wishing star he makes a wish that Pinocchio was a real boy. The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) hears the man’s wish and deciding that a good man deserves some kindness, provisionally grants it. Along for the ride is Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who agrees to act as the naïve Pinocchio’s temporary conscience. The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio he can become a real boy if he proves himself “Brave, truthful, and selfless” thus setting Pinocchio on a series of adventures and challenges to prove his worth.

Zemeckis and co-writer Chris Weitz (responsible for the live action Cinderella) are very clearly remaking the animation and not trying to find much new ground. The film has Disney stamped so firmly on it that even Geppetto’s clocks are a reminder of other Disney IPs (Woody from Toy Story, Maleficent, Cinderella, Snow White, Dumbo, and one that is for Zemeckis himself, Who Framed Roger Rabbit). It’s a cynical move by a company that seems intent on proving how much they own. It was eye-rolling to see them flex their corporate muscle in Free Guy, here it is possibly worse as it acts as a reminder that everyone’s childhood is a nostalgia product that the corporation can tug at whenever they please.

The CGI design of Pinocchio is an exact replica of the original. Jiminy the Cricket has been redesigned to appear more “cricket like” and Cleo (the fish) and Figaro (the cat) are what you’d imagine CGI versions of the characters to look like. In short, Zemeckis is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but there are differences that he adds to the story that are sometimes effective, and very often, not effective at all.

One change that particularly stands out is how Zemeckis and Weitz have watered down the character of Pinocchio himself. In the original animation he’s a lot more rebellious, here he seems to mostly be the innocent victim of peer pressure (the notion is even written into the script). Zemeckis has Pinocchio actually trying to go to school but being kicked out which leads him directly into the path of Honest John (Keegan-Michael Key) the nefarious fox who wants to sell the puppet to Stromboli. Pinocchio desperately wants to please Geppetto and also become a real boy, and Honest John preaches that there is nothing more real than fame. It would be a canny piece of commentary on contemporary society if not for the fact that Honest John makes it so contemporary that it loses its meaning. He goes on about “followers” and suggests that Pinocchio change his name to Chris Pine. Such jokes have a shelf life and as such removes any universal appeal the remake is trying to garner.

Stromboli’s theatre allows for original characters to appear. A sympathetic puppeteer named Fabina (Kyanne Lamaya) and her marionette Sabina (Jaquita Ta’le). The addition of these characters seems more in line with Collodi’s work which had Pinocchio finding friendship with puppets while trapped in the travelling show. It also showcases one of two original songs for the film written by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard. Unfortunately the song is so unmemorable, especially when contrasted to the original soundtrack, there’s very little to say about it. So too goes for the number written for The Coachman (Luke Evans) which is only memorable because the whole thing is frustratingly shot in near complete darkness.

The scenes at Pleasure Island are new levels of nightmare fuel and perhaps the one place where Zemekis’ skill shines. Girls and boys run the gamut of bad behaviour (although alcohol and smoking are obviously no longer a part of the narrative). Pleasure Island is genuinely a candy-coloured fever dream that is more macabre than the original. Pinocchio’s new “friend” Lampwick (Lewin Lloyd) is as morally compromised as he is in the original animation, but Pinocchio himself seems to be disturbed by Pleasure Island and refuses to participate in the more rebellious activities. It doesn’t make a lot of narrative sense for him to grow ears and a tail because he drinks some root beer and plays pool.

Tom Hanks, who has worked with Zemekis on several projects, including the Academy Award winning Forrest Gump seems to be a natural choice to play Geppetto, after all, he is America’s Dad. Sadly, Hanks seems lost in the digital world he’s interacting with. It can’t be an easy job to act with a tennis ball on a stick, but Hanks has proven with Finch it can be done. Here he almost completely phones the performance in despite being given a more tragic backstory than the original Geppetto. His accent is woeful, not quite Elvis level woeful, but a mess, nonetheless. Cynthia Erivo’s Blue Fairy is charming, but her character has been reduced to essentially a cameo where she belts out ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ and then disappears from the film. Gordon-Levitt, Key, and particularly Ainsworth acquit themselves well with their voice work, but don’t really add anything special to the characters that didn’t exist in the 1940 version.

Zemeckis’ vision gives the audience little of value in Pinocchio. He tries to remain faithful to the 1940 version but also insists on updating it. Both propositions seem futile. For a director who was a pioneer in effects work his vision for Pinocchio is confoundingly both generic and bombastic. Although it seems reductive to say there is no reason for a film to exist, Pinocchio 2022 may validate such a statement. Let’s hope that Del Toro’s upcoming stop-motion version of the classic tale fares better.

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Tom Hanks, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Chris Weitz, (based on The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Curb on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!