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Pinocchio 2022

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Paul Asay

Movie Review

When Geppetto pines for his lost son, he does so somewhat literally.

How long he’s worked on his little wooden boy—painstakingly carving him from blocks of pine—it’s hard to say. Even Geppetto himself might not know. But chip by chip, shave by shave, he’s pulled a puppet from the wood, one that Geppetto thinks looks a little like his own dearly departed child—even if his cat, Figaro, disagrees.

“Happily ever after was never meant to be,” he sighs, making some final adjustments. “If only this could be more than a memory.”

And then Geppetto’s done, doing his best to push the sadness away. This, after all, is a happy occasion. And Pinocchio—so named because he’s made out of pine—is a happy creation.

“This is why I gave you a smile,” he tells the puppet. “So you will always be happy.”

Jiminy Cricket—an impoverished insect who just stopped in to warm himself up—watches this small family drama unfold from a shelf. He watches Geppetto prepare for bed. And then the old man sees a “wishing star.” The carpenter makes his wish and refuses to say what it is.

“If I was to tell you,” he says to Figaro, “you would think I was—”

His thought is interrupted by a cuckoo clock. And so Geppetto snuggles under his blankets as Jiminy curls up on his shelf.

But lo, around midnight, the cricket gets startled awake by a strange, blue light—a beam of blue radiance that pounds against the picture of Geppetto’s lost little boy. But the light finds no way past the glass in the frame, and—by accident or design—the blue beam deflects, pouring all its magic into the wooden puppet.

For magic this is. Powerful magic. Disney magic. Pinocchio is no longer a puppet: He talks. He walks. And after a short talk with the Blue Fairy (originator of said beam of magic), he has one simple ambition: To make his creator—his father—proud.

He might need a little help with that. A little, six-legged, top-hatted help.

Positive Elements

The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio that he must pass an ordeal to become a real boy and “prove that you are brave, truthful and unselfish.” But honestly, the wooden waif starts off with some good traits right from the block.

First, Pinocchio really does want to make Geppetto proud. Often, even when he makes bad decisions, that core motivation remains. He ultimately proves to be brave and unselfish, too. And while Pinocchio’s nose does grow from fibbing, at least some of those lies he tells for an altogether different purpose—needing a longer schnoz to make an escape. 

And while he runs across many terrible people in his adventures, he stumbles on a couple of good ones, too. Fabiana, a kindly puppeteer, helps Pinocchio when he’s in the clutches of Stromboli, a dastardly and greedy entertainment mogul. A kindly seagull named Sofia chauffeurs both Pinocchio and Jiminy when the plot requires. And, of course, Geppetto is a loving, giving, devoted father—one who makes some tremendous sacrifices when he learns that Pinocchio is in danger.

As was the case in the original 1940 animated classic, this version of Pinocchio often illustrates how boys and girls ought not to behave. Pleasure Island offers attractions such as “Contempt Corner” (where revelers are encouraged to hurl insults) and “Degrade School” (free bricks are available outside to break windows). “Sugar Mountain” offers a gluttonous thrill ride, where candy can be scooped right off the mountainside, and “Shop ‘n’ Lift” allows consumers to just take whatever they want.

“No one is ever going to tell you no” at Pleasure Island, Pinocchio is told—which tells viewers that, sometimes, no is a very important word in deed.

The new Pinocchio adds a few lessons that weren’t in the original, too. When the duplicitous fox Honest John pushes Pinocchio to Stromboli’s puppet show, he couches it in very 21st-century temptations for fame, promising Pinocchio he could be not just an actor: He could be an influencer.

“I want to be real!” Pinocchio tells Honest John.

“Why, to be famous is to be real!” Honest John insists. “Until then, you’re just a nobody.”

In a similar vein, Pinocchio’s trip to Pleasure Island isn’t the product of being tempted by all the bad stuff there. Instead, it’s a lesson in peer pressure. In a song, Pinocchio is told to not be a “party pooper—you’ll ruin it for everyone!” So reluctantly, Pinocchio agrees to go.

Spiritual Elements

Geppetto clasps his hands as he makes his wish—as if praying to that wishing star. The Blue Fairy who answers his wish is, of course, a magical creature with some very serious powers.

Children are transformed into donkeys and are gathered up by what would appear to be supernatural monsters. And while it’s played as a joke, Pinocchio becomes a big believer in the power of “positive thinking.”

Sexual Content

The Blue Fairy wonders why Geppetto made a boy out of wood. “Well, sure, there are other ways to make a boy, but I don’t think Geppetto gets out much,” Jiminy Cricket tells her.

Pinocchio innocently fancies a dainty ballerina marionette. Another marionette—this one a can-can dancer—thrusts her rear in Pinocchio’s face. (The can-can dance is far less suggestive, though, than the one found in the 1940 cartoon.) Jiminy rests his arm on the bustle of a small wooden sculpture. (“Pardon me,” he says, in a scene repeat from the original.)

Violent Content

The film is replete with slapstick humor—including gags taken straight from the original as well as some new ones. Rarely does anyone get seriously injured, though, other than when Honest John and Gideon are knocked out courtesy a large sledgehammer.

That said, some scenes can get pretty scary.

Stromboli literally throws Pinocchio into a bird cage and leaves him to languish there. And at Pleasure Island—where little boys and girls are turned into donkeys and sent off to the salt mines—the Coachman collects these newly transformed critters with the help of some frightening “vapor monsters.”

The most frightening creature, though, might just be Monstro—no longer a mere whale, but a sea monster sporting teeth and tentacles and sail-shaped fins. (It looks a little like a whale mixed with a prehistoric mosasaurus, with a bit of octopus thrown in.) He swallows our heroes whole, and their escape is quite perilous. Indeed, it appears for a bit that one character doesn’t survive.

Pinocchio’s feet move quite rapidly, and they nearly burn down a stage at one point (because of the friction they cause). Someone is hit with a firework, setting his rear on fire and necessitating a dunk in water. A cuckoo clock features a woman spanking a child—a gag pulled from the original 1940 film. In this version, though, an apparent police officer is added, and he prods the woman as she spanks.

We know that both Geppetto’s wife and son died somehow, but we don’t know how.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear two British profanities (“b–locks” and “bloody”). When Jiminy sees something amiss happen on Pleasure Island, he exclaims, “What the cuss is that all about?” And when Lampwick, Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island pal, messes up a billiards shot, he says “ap-cray,” the pig Latin version of the vulgarity “crap.”

Lampwick also repeats a line from the original 1940 cartoon involving the word “jackass” (used literally here, as Lampwick himself morphs into a donkey.) When Jiminy arrives at Pleasure Island, he says it’s as if he was “dropped into h-e-double hockey sticks.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

A cuckoo clock depicts a man drinking from a bottle marked “XXX.” Root beer and sarsaparilla are served liberally on Pleasure Island. While both drinks are non-alcoholic, of course, their presence there is meant to feel edgy and hedonistic.

Other Negative Elements

Pinocchio closely examines a pile of feces during his first day outside. Flies buzz around the pile, and Pinocchio makes a face when he smells it. He appears close to touching it, too, but we don’t see him make contact.

When he and Geppetto are stuck inside Monstro, Geppetto says that escape seems difficult. “It looks to me like everything comes in, but nothing goes out—except the other way, presumably, but that’s not a good option.”

[Spoiler Warning] Early on, Pinocchio actually makes it to school n this version of Pinocchio—and had he been allowed to stay, this would’ve been a significantly shorter movie. Instead, the school master literally throws him out, telling him that school is meant for “real” boys and girls.

Conclusion

Not every Disney classic needs a remake.

Many consider 1940’s Pinocchio to be the greatest movie Disney ever made. Ambitious, resonant, filled with beautiful art and memorable songs, it rates a perfect 100% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I can pretty much guarantee the latest Pinocchio won’t come near that acclaim. Director Robert Zemeskis takes a timeless bit of art and turns it into an of-the-moment muddle, filled with lots of winks and nods but not much heart. Both Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket look a little creepy in CGI, and neither Tom Hanks (who stars as Geppetto), nor Cynthia Erivo (who sings a beautiful version of “When You Wish Upon a Star”), nor the sometimes delightful visuals can help this film find its footing.

It feels, if you pardon the pun, a bit wooden.

It also excises, in some ways, the whole point of Pinocchio. The story is, and has always been, a story of transformation—an exploration of what it means to be not just a real boy, but a good person. That goodness is hard-earned in most tellings, a product of difficult lessons gleaned from a difficult world. Here, Pinocchio starts off good and changes very little. This isn’t about learning hard lessons: It’s about self-acceptance—an oh-so-21st-century moral. And in embracing that temporal ethos, this version of Pinocchio loses much of the original’s real, resonant oomph. 

But if the new Pinocchio doesn’t reach its much-beloved predecessor, it still has merit.

Yes, Zemeskis swaps out a message of change for a message of acceptance. But there’s real value in that message, too. One could take away from the original Pinocchio that love must be earned. And, of course, that’s not true. We didn’t earn God’s love. Our kids don’t earn our love. We love them for who they are, even as we encourage them to grow.

This version of Pinocchio might be especially resonant for kids who’ve been adopted, but any child who has felt the sting of a parent’s disappointment may find something to embrace here. “I might have made you think I wanted somebody else,” Geppetto tells Pinocchio. “But it was you.”

And while the language can be a bit coarse and the bathroom humor unfortunate, the film sticks closely to its PG rating, too. In fact, many of its content issues actually come directly from the G-rated 1940 original—a reminder that while we may sometimes think that our entertainment is on a continual downward slide, the reality can sometimes be more complex.

No, the new Pinocchio will not become a classic—watched by generations to come. But when it comes to finding a decent watch for families in this generation, you could do a lot worse.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.