One might also argue that it is the picture perfect recreation of Pinocchio—and to a few of the other digital characters like Honest John and Gideon the Cat—which catches Zemeckis’ Pinocchio in the same trap as many previous live-action Disney remakes. Is this a slavish recreation of the movie you already saw or something that goes its own way? And if it tries to be its own movie, will that harm the lucrative nostalgia the project is meant to evoke in the first place?
When it comes to a character as iconic as Pinocchio, Disney and its animators opted to recreate the recognizable iconography associated with the intellectual property in exacting detail. Strangely, they did not do the same for Jiminy Cricket, which is all the odder since the design they came up with for Jiminy is demonstrably worse in live-action than probably just recreating what Walt’s team did in 1940. Either way, it clashes with a visual aesthetic that also attempts to get away from just replicating the 1940 film.
Some of this is by necessity. For example, Geppetto’s cat, Figaro, cannot be nearly so cartoonish on-screen when interacting with Tom Hanks. If they did that, it would look like one of Zemeckis’ early triumphs, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And the whole point of this live-action remake exercise is to use the animation to give a false sense of “live-action.” This also explains why Jiminy periodically chirps and jumps like a cricket.
So to keep some of the anthropomorphic charm of the original Figaro from 1940, Zemeckis and Disney still opt to use a CGI creature for the cat as opposed to a real feline with tuxedo markings. But now the animal is some weird uncanny valley, neither as authentically live as a living cat, and nowhere near as beguiling as the original 1940 animated character. The version the 2022 movie settles on lacks the spark of personality or life. This goes double for Geppetto’s pet fish.
That uneven balance between “live-action” and nostalgic animation occurs throughout the film, with much of 2022’s Pinocchio occurring on sets and vistas meant to suggest a heightened but recognizable version of 19th century Italy. That is jarring though when juxtaposed with Pinocchio’s antiquated design that was originally intended for a different medium of cinematic storytelling.
The Tone of Pinocchio’s Adventures
It is perhaps because of the visual imbalance of the project that Zemeckis attempts to imbue his Pinocchio with a lot more meta-humor that consistently breaks the fourth wall. The most glaring example of this is when it’s revealed that Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks are all designed around exact replicas of famous Disney IP. If a few of them merely hinted at the director and Hanks’ previous triumphs at Disney, such as Roger Rabbit and Toy Story, respectively, it might’ve worked. However, we get a one-to-one perfect recreation of Woody and his trusty steed Bullseye from Toy Story 2 out of the first cuckoo clock we see—and then we get the same “joke” again with Roger Rabbit, The Lion King, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.