There should always be a core reason for remaking classic media. The Wizard of Oz (1925) was the first adaptation of that story with sound while Ocean’s 11 (2001) gave the story more action and a larger scale. Even Dumbo (2018), another of Disney’s Live-Action Remakes, expanded the original plot past its conclusion. Pinocchio (2022), on the other hand, seems to exist purely to absolve the main character of any flaws.
Disney’s original telling of this tale in 1940 has, admittedly, not aged well. The age-old racist stereotype of the chain-smoking Native American gets a look-in while the child selling aspect is a bit intense. Honest John even sings about how “gay” an actor’s life can be which has different connotations these days. There are sultry puppets, evil whales, and minors drinking but Disney has brought this story into the 21st century by ignoring all that. It’s as safe and squeaky clean as stories can be. It’s so clean that Disney appears to have forgotten to give the story any morals.
1940 Pinocchio is a mischievous little scamp. No sooner is he born than he’s directly disobeying his father in the pursuit of becoming an actor. When he escapes the abuse of that life choice, he becomes enticed by an island with no rules and plenty of alcohol. He only leaves that island out of fear, with his first act of true selflessness being the rescue of Gepetto. 2022 Pinocchio goes through the same plot beats, but in a way that fully absolves him of any blame. He only becomes an actor after he is kicked out of school and he only goes to the island because he’s been kidnapped. By the time he rescues Gepetto, there is no question that he is pure of heart because he’s never been anything else. The same character assassination happens to Jiminy Cricket who once became a conscience to gain a medal. Here, he’s imprisoned in a glass for half the plot so that Pinocchio’s actions can’t be pinned on him either.
The morals of “a lie will grow until it’s as obvious as the nose on your face” and “actions have consequences that are sometimes dire” have totally vanished. Pinocchio (2022) would like the audience to know that lying is bad and that bad things can happen to good people but it will probably work out in the end.
The best decision made for this story is to give it a more cohesive plot. It no longer feels like 3 separate stories that happen in quick succession but like a series of events that lead to each other. However, it also adds backstory for Gepetto which may have been present in the source material but comes across here as forced. 1940 Gepetto wasn’t the most fleshed-out character but he was clearly lonely and longing for a family. So many pieces of current media feel the need to spell everything out for the audience as if they’re too dumb to figure it out from the subtext themselves. There can’t be any ambiguity about a character’s past or how they feel, despite mystery sometimes being a key part of their personality. Just because the audience knows more about a character, doesn’t mean they’re more likely to care.
It would be nice to say that the CGI is impressive and worth sticking around for but that isn’t the case. It’s at its most creative when Pinocchio reaches the island and embarks on a theme park ride through all the attractions it has. It’s whimsical and colourful but it’s the only part of the film to which this sentiment applies. Pinocchio feels hollow, like a tree that’s had its center removed.
Sure, the tree is still there but it no longer benefits the world it exists in.