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The Risk of Reboots and the Art of Adaptation: Pinocchio

5 min read

Two films coming out in one year seems a bit bizarre. One being for kids and one for all ages is one possible distinction warranting it, though they still seem to be in fairly direct competition with del Toro's version a PG rating. Nonetheless, was there this much demand for a Pinocchio ? Reboots and adaptations seem a bit too common lately, and we have all heard the grumblings about 's repeated live-action remakes of their classics, which do seem to lack much of the magic the originals offered with their sanitised and often hollow versions of the classics.

Disney's new Pinocchio directed by Robert is definitely sanitised and lacking magic, or character. The combination of and feels false and jarring, and the fun cheekiness of the characters in the original is gone, for example, Pinocchio is offered root beer rather than alcohol from the rambunctious Lampwick and is given no choice about what he is doing in Pleasure Island. Pinocchio seems swept through the plot with little autonomy, which detracts from the heart of the story; Pinocchio using his newfound freedom to learn the right thing to do, and who to trust. Jiminy Cricket is a pale imitation of his 2D animated original, as is Geppetto, played by Tom Hanks who seems to care as little about his character as the audience does.

On the flip side, Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson's does everything differently from Disney's . Using stop-motion animation and leaning into the darker side of the original 1883 text, there is nothing sanitised about this version, and it seems a far cry from a kids Disney film. While there is a warm heart to this film, it is set in Fascist Italy which adds another dimension to Pinocchio's disobedience and unfortunate puppet shows. Pinocchio is also a mischievous trickster, to put it politely, which is both closer to the original story and provides ample opportunity for the character to develop over the film and become “brave, truthful, and unselfish” as he must in the 1940s version. Del Toro's films are nothing if not magical, straddling the line between fantasy the whole family can enjoy and disturbing tales such as Pan's Labyrinth, Nightmare Alley, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Crimson Peak.

There are clearly considerable differences between each film, and perhaps people may think that a children's film shouldn't be scary, strange, or feature fascists. However, the original 1940 Pinocchio was certainly scary and a bit disturbing, but thousands of children watched this growing up and I doubt few protested the puppet being given beer enough for the changes made. The story loses its original meaning when Pinocchio lives in a fairy-tale version of the village, more like a kids ride at Disneyland than a compelling film. The threat, fear and, shock horror, free will are what make the movie, and so many other classic fairy tales and children's films.

Pinocchio acts as a surrogate for any child, and for older viewers represents our memories of being confused, young, and likely mischievous. The world is scary and confusing when you are young, and as we grow up and gain independence we learn who we can and can't trust, as well as when to lie and when not to lie, for example lying to make your nose reach the keys for your cage is permissible. When the scariest thing in Disney's remake is the Cats level animation of the anthropomorphic fox Honest John the pressure on Pinocchio to make the right choices is lost, and his voice of reason in Jiminy Cricket is similarly dimmed in the remake. There is equally a message for parents here, recognising the autonomy but also helplessness of their children, and the balance to be found, as Geppetto must learn. Tom Hanks of course gives a good performance, but not exactly a passionate one, as is to be expected while working with what he is given.

So, is there more merit in adapting a film than simply remaking it? Not necessarily; the line is quite blurred as to how much needs to be changed to count as an adaptation. In this instance, it can be reasonably assumed that while both films were inspired by the 1940 version of Pinocchio, Disney attempted to stick much more closely to the original film than Del Toro has, andDel Toro based much on the original 1883 story and added new elements such as the fascist setting. Regardless, a remake doesn't have to rework everything about a film to warrant revisiting it, but it does have to successfully change enough to justify itself. Why spend millions on making a movie that already exists? There have been countless brilliant reboots, remakes, and adaptations, for example Steven Spielberg's 2021 remake of West Side Story which was modernised and benefitted from impressive cinematography, performances, and choreography while keeping the charm and brilliance of the original intact. Why, then, does Disney seems hellbent on adding nothing to their remakes other than CGI, which while impressive does not match the charm of their signature 2D animation or warrant the films existence?

Instead, a new spin needs to be given to an established story. Sometimes all that is needed is a reworked plot, an interesting new visual style, a bigger budget, or even turning a film into a musical is enough, almost anything other than simply remaking a film into live action. It shouldn't be argued that adaptations are necessarily better than remakes, but Pinocchio has made the risks of remakes all too clear. The crew and cast of this film had more to offer to the film, but were seemingly constrained to a family-friendly remake without any of the risk or reworking the material. Zemeckis has directed the likes of Forrest Gump, but also The Witches in 2020 which certainly left a lot to be desired, so it seems his strengths do not lie in film remakes. Thankfully, Del Toro managed to give audiences a Pinocchio with all the magic and mischief audiences expect both from his work and the beloved classic tale.