Disney released their live-action remake of Pinocchio on Disney+ on Sept. 8, and to no one’s surprise, it wasn’t good. The remake lacks the heart of the original, failing to be neither a successful moral fable nor an entertaining movie.
The film is a strange mix of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and live-action. The human characters, such as Geppetto and the Blue Fairy, are all real actors, while other characters such as Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket are CGI.
This means that there are frequent physical interactions between CGI and real characters, which often look awkward and fake, preventing the audience from becoming absorbed into the movie. Moreover the animated characters seem to lack any real weight in the world. For example in tender moments, like when Geppetto carries his puppet son, it feels like he’s carrying nothing but air. Somehow, the live-action feels less real than the original 2D animation.
The heavy use of CGI cheapens many of the scenes and settings. For example Geppetto’s workshop should be one of the loveliest settings in the whole movie. Watching Pinocchio (1940) as a kid, I remember it being a warm and lively home filled with wonderful wood carvings, where you could almost smell the wood shavings and polish through the screen.
In this version however, most of the cuckoo clocks and carved wooden figures are CGI. They don’t look real, seemingly more plastic than pine. Almost every cuckoo clock is a reference to a prior Disney film. It feels distracting and lazy, like an advertisement for other movies you should watch instead of this one.
As one of the few redeeming qualities of the film, Tom Hanks does a good job playing Geppetto, giving him a warm and slightly eccentric depiction. I also felt that the character of Jiminy Cricket was portrayed well by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, despite the character’s lack of relevance to the movie’s plot.
Pinocchio also makes a half-hearted attempt at being a musical. Like the live-action Lion King (2019), the characters occasionally break out into short, abbreviated musical numbers. They never quite feel like they fit into the world, lacking strong melodies and convincing choreography. If the movie had committed to being a musical or cut out the songs altogether, it might’ve made it a more cohesive film.
However the biggest flaw in the film by far is Pinocchio himself, the wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy, yet never feels like one in the movie. The character is wooden and lifeless throughout the entire hour and 51-minute runtime. When he speaks, he doesn’t sound like a real person. The voice is as expressionless and vacantly cheery as Siri or Alexa. Even when locked in a cage and crying out for his father, the lines are flatly delivered.
This iteration of the character also lacks the mischief and curiosity of the original. He never makes any serious mistakes or falls into temptation. When presented with the option to skip school for the day to join a puppet troupe, Pinocchio chooses to go to school like a good little boy. That’s nice and all, but where is the character development? Where are the shenanigans? How can he learn from his mistakes if he never makes any?
The heart of the story of Pinocchio is that he is a mischievous puppet who needs to learn honesty and integrity to earn his transformation into a real boy. When robbed of that, it becomes nothing more than a saccharine series of events where a good boy follows all the rules and gets a reward at the end yet never learns how to be alive.