Monday, October 17, 2022

The Problem with Pinocchio

Someone asked me recently about my opinion on the Disney live-action remakes, saying that it seems like major Disney fans usually don't like them. But when I go and think about it, my opinions do vary for each film. Some are good, some are boring, some are terrible, some are a combination. And the ones that are bad aren't all bad for the same reasons. Given that, I really didn't know what to expect from the latest rendition of Pinocchio. I suppose I wasn't in a hurry to watch it, although a month is less time than I waited for some of the others (and some I still haven't watched). 

Some of these remakes set about to be very different from the original, animated versions; some basically mimic the original. Pinocchio seemed to be going with the latter approach. So I could on about how it's strange to be watching the "live-action" version with so much CGI in it--hardly anything is actually live, anyway. (What about completely computer animation remakes? Do you think they might ever do that?) Or I could talk about how strange the audio was for the CG characters (I thought there was something wrong with my headphones).

But my issue is with the cap at the end of the film. (I'd warn about spoilers but I don't think there's anyone to warn. Anyone who cares that much would have already watched the movie.) When Geppetto and Pinocchio are joyfully reunited after escaping from Monstro, Geppetto declares his love for Pinocchio just the way he is. Our narrator explains that some versions of the story say that Pinocchio did then become a real boy--but that it doesn't really matter either way because he was already real. It's possible to blink and not realize just how problematic this seemingly sweet message is. 

Pinocchio's story is a moral tale. (Click here to read a post in which I go into more detail on this.) He is created by Geppetto and must learn the moral traits of honesty, bravery, and unselfishness before he can become "real." Along the way, he falls into temptation and sin. He grieves his father/creator's heart. But Geppetto never gives up on Pinocchio, and in the end Pinocchio is willing to do all he can to seek his father in return. He learns his lesson from his actions and becomes a real boy. 

To say that Pinocchio was just fine the way he was is to say that transformation and learning were not necessary. Transformation is necessary. We as people are inherently flawed. We do make bad choices. We do need transformation. So to say that we can be left in our original state and that that's okay is deeply problematic. It is necessary to remember that just because we need transformation does not mean that we cannot or are not loved the whole time through. Remember, Geppetto, though his heart was grieved by Pinocchio's choices, never stopped loving his boy and never stopped pursuing him. He never stopped calling to Pinocchio even when he was out living it up on Pleasure Island. So when I say that it was necessary for Pinocchio to transform, I am not saying that he was unloved before his transformation. I am not saying you can only love someone who is transformed. I'm just saying that, morally, we should all be striving for a constant state of transformation. We should all be looking to say no to temptations and strive to become better and become new day by day. Pinocchio's transformation from wood to flesh is a metaphor. It isn't discrimination against people made of actual wood (I haven't met any--have you?).

Notice, too, the changes in Pleasure Island. They made it more into a fun fest, a very specific, child-focused exploration of rule-breaking. The animated film made it clear that these were temptations to do all the "bad" things that adults like to do. Sure, there were some carnival games on the outside. But the main things the boys were excited about were smoking, drinking, gambling, and generally being rough. If, for whatever reason, Disney felt like they wanted to have something more visually cleaned up and "family friendly" (although they make plenty of non-family-friendly content, so I don't really buy that excuse), then they could have chosen other vices that would still hold that same message of "badness" rather than simply reckless rebellion. It needs to be clear that Pleasure Island represents a departure from moral standards. 

Ah, but therein lies the issue. Our society these days takes issue with moral standards. And Disney, being a public company, is experimenting with going along with society instead of sticking to its core of moral tales. Pinocchio, he just needed to learn that he was fine as he was all along, he just had to believe in himself. No, no, no. Pinocchio had to learn, like we all have to learn, that temptation and its consequences are very real; therefore, we must listen instead to the still, small voice and stay on the good path and turn back to our Creator who is lovingly pursuing us and then we can trade in our wooden limbs for flesh. 

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