Review by The Collision September 8, 2022
Pinocchio (Christian Movie Review)￼
Verdict: A live-action remake as stiff as a wooden puppet and lacking any classic Disney magic to bring it to life.
About The Movie
Anyone who claims that the 1940 animated film Pinocchio is one of their favorite Disney movies will probably see their nose grow at least a foot. The story about the puppet who aspires to become a “real boy” is arguably the darkest and most bizarre entry in the Disney canon. It’s unsurprising that it’s been left on the bottom of the barrel during the recent phase of live-action remakes. Having now watched this Robert Zemeckis-directed remake, it seems clear that it should have been left there. Pinocchio (2022) is as stiff and lifeless as its puppet hero.
The one sprinkle of blue fairy magic in the film is Tom Hanks as Geppetto. Hanks manages to bring warmth and whimsy to the story that is otherwise void of it. Unfortunately, not much else about the movie works.
The story remains largely true to the original, following the plot almost beat-by-beat. Like the original, it begins slow (Pinocchio doesn’t leave Geppetto’s house until more than 26 minutes into the runtime), and then unfolds in series of episodic and disjointed adventures. The fragmentary nature of the story is heightened as, unlike in the original, characters such as the Blue Fairy and the conniving fox, Honest John, do not reappear after their initial introduction.
There are also some modern updates to the 88-year-old tale. These changes are hit or miss. Pleasure Island has been updated and sanitized, with the delinquent children drinking root beer instead of booze, and by incorporating more modern temptations (such as allusions to modern social media), rather than cigars. I like these changes, which make the story more relatable to young audiences. Other modern updates, however, such as Honest John tempting Pinocchio to become “an influencer” or a “Chris Pine” gag, are cringeworthy.
There is also original material created for the remake. The ending has been altered and left more ambiguous than the original. The change is sure to be controversial, but I liked it and found it more consistent with the film’s overarching message. On the other hand, the four new songs are entirely forgettable and uninspired. An original character named Fabiana and her puppet are also introduced, but because the story sticks so closely to the original plot, the character has nothing of consequence to do and is quickly abandoned. Even the menacing whale, Monstro, who is one of Disney’s more frightening villains, is now transformed into a bland sea monster with octopus-like tentacles that make it appear silly rather than terrifying.
Speaking of frightening, as with the original, the remake is quite dark. The original’s veiled, shadowy henchmen at Pleasure Island are transformed into full-blown smoke monsters, and the donkey transformation scene remains disturbing. The movie is in desperate need of some humor or whimsy to counterbalance the gloomy color pallet and grim story.
On the Surface
Profanity: There are no swears, but Jiminy Cricket says several placeholder or replacement words, such as “darn,” and “What the cuss is that all about?” Upon discovering the truth of Pleasure Island, he declares, “It’s like I dropped into H…E…double hockey sticks.” Other character says “bollocks,” which can have multiple meanings, but is also a slang for male genitalia. In Pleasure Island, there is a location called “Contempt Corner,” where children proclaim rude insults into a microphone or carry hateful signs (“I hate you,” “You’re ugly,” “Shut your mouth,” etc.).
Beneath The Surface
Engage The Film
A Good Conscience
As in the original animated version, the story has a didactic function by exploring the role of the conscience in distinguishing between right and wrong. Jiminy Cricket describes a conscience as a “still small voice that most of the world refuses to listen to.” The film presents a worldview in which people instinctively know what is wrong (whether they listen to it or not). There is perhaps an echo of the struggle against the sinful flesh described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25. In fact, this idea is established even more directly than in the original. In this version, Pinocchio never seems fully at ease in Pleasure Island. On the one hand, this caution seems to downplay the allure of sinful behavior. On the other hand, the nuance makes it clear that Pinocchio already possesses enough of a conscience to understand that all the pleasures made available to him are not as satisfying as they appear.
A Prodigal Son
Pinocchio has always been a quasi-allegorical morality tale. A puppet being bought to life, who spends his first days in blissful innocence and fellowship with his creator before being sent out into a cruel and broken world (and fittingly handed an apple on the way out the door). Pleasure Island is depicted as a hellish place, with Jiminy even calling it so by name. To various degrees, the story touches on creation, fall, and redemption.
Another biblical element, which is more clearly established in the remake, is that the story also unfolds as a sort of re-imaging of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). Geppetto is given a bit more to do in this film, as a father/creator pursuing his lost creation/child. In a new storyline, he even sells all his clocks, which are established earlier as his prize possessions, in order to buy the boat needed to go find Pinocchio. Pinocchio is told, “Those clocks meant everything to him. You meant more to him than his beloved clocks. More than anything.” Later, when they are reunited and Pinocchio apologizes, Geppetto declares, “All is forgiven. I’m just happy to see you!” The film ends with the two characters walking side by side to “follow the light.”