It’s no secret that the last decade has been a slow descent into complete creative bankruptcy for Disney. The studio that once made dreams come true now lays out smorgasbords of uninspired, unoriginal content ranging from botched Marvel sequels to live-action remakes of Disney classics that feel lifeless. “Pinocchio,” released Sept. 8 on Disney+, is one of the studio’s worst offenders to date. It feels more like a fever dream that slowly sucks the viewer’s soul than a movie with plot, character and excitement.
Based on the 1940 animated film that was adapted from a 19th-century Italian children’s novel, “Pinocchio” is a story that most people know, even if they’ve never actually seen the movie. Geppetto (Tom Hanks) is an elderly craftsman who has never had a child. He is working on a marionette puppet named Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) that resembles a young boy. One night, he sees a shooting star out his window and wishes that his puppet was a real boy. Once Geppetto falls asleep, his workshop is visited by the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) who grants the puppet consciousness and makes Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) his conscience. She leaves after singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” and telling Pinocchio that he will become a real boy if he is brave, truthful and selfless. Pinocchio is then left alone with his guard, Jiminy Cricket, who has to teach him right from wrong in this new world.
These opening scenes are really the only part of the movie that deserve any form of commendation. Aside from the questionable CGI, the film demonstrates potential in crafting an environment with a charming storybook aesthetic evoking a certain childhood nostalgia. Geppetto’s workshop feels alive, fantastical and whimsical, but sadly the majority of the movie takes place outside the workshop. This flickering light of promise is immediately snuffed out once the story unfolds and Pinocchio is taken into the outside world.
Geppetto drops Pinocchio off in the streets to join a line of kids heading off to school, but quickly gets roped in by Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), a talking fox who along with his sidekick Gideon, a mute cat, tries to convince Pinocchio to pursue a life of fame. Jiminy Cricket steps in and brings Pinocchio back on the path to school, but once Pinocchio gets kicked out of the schoolhouse for being a puppet, he decides to take up the seedy duo on their promise of fame, joining a traveling act as the marquis performer. After leaving the act, he makes his way to a magical place called Pleasure Island, which turns out to be a much more sinister locale than advertised.
As the movie weaves through these plot points, it starts to completely unravel. The filmmaking becomes bland and robotic as the characters that populate the “live-action” movie are almost all poorly rendered CGI creations. The original “Pinocchio” did excellent work in crafting a solid tone that shifted from upbeat to eerie while always being chock-full of that Disney charm. But this newest iteration lacks expression and feels like the product of experimental AI tasked with replicating the beloved classic. Even the score is annoying, invasive and devoid of any of the classic motifs that make Disney movies stick in the mind. Everything the original movie did right, this film finds a way to do wrong. Like all the other live-action Disney remakes spewed out over the past few years, they are not a love letter to the classics but rather a desecration of their magic.
But unlike most of the Disney remakes, this film didn’t even get released in a movie theater — it went straight to streaming on Disney+, a streamer that already has the original “Pinocchio” on it. Not that seeing this in a theater would make it any better, but at least that experience would grant some justification for its existence. There is not a single reason why you should pick this over the original — it’s longer, the changes made to the story are all for the worse, it looks terrible and the characters are all poorly developed and poorly acted. This film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, known for such acclaimed classics as the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Forrest Gump.” It would probably be unfair to say that his creative touch is gone altogether, but it certainly is nowhere to be found in this film.
Disney seems to have completely lost understanding of what it means to make a good movie. They think that “The Lion King,” “Dumbo” and now “Pinocchio” can be reformed into something fresh by simply throwing the newest technology at it and putting big names before and behind the camera. In practice, these live-action remakes serve as a eulogy to a bygone era — one where animation was a respected art and creativity was valued by the studios. What we are left with is a half-baked simulacrum of a film that didn't even need to be remade in the first place.