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Disney’s Pinocchio (1940) vs. The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996)

There’s nothing more magical than rediscovering a childhood classic. As I was working, these lyrics popped into my head: “What are we made of? Can we know what we will be?” Off I went on a browser journey to stumble across something I thought I’d imagined hearing (and seeing) as a child. Enter The Adventures of Pinocchio, a film that captivated us 90s kids thanks to some pretty awesome lenticular VHS cover art and some memorably entertaining characters.

So, in light of Disney remakes, I thought it would be appropriate to see if this gem from my childhood is just as amazing as the 1940s Disney classic my dad (and I) watched as a kid.
Strap on your nostalgia goggles and join me as I take a dive into Walt Disney’s classic animated film Pinocchio (1940) and New Line Cinema’s live-action version The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996) and see which one’s got no strings to hold it down.


Obviously, the best point to start is the protagonist himself.

As much as I hate to say it, one of my biggest problems with the Disney version is that, even though he learns his lessons, Pinocchio’s personality doesn’t change. Even when he’s causing trouble, he looks, acts, and talks like a sweet-tempered eight-year-old child.

In the 1996 version, Pinocchio (Johnathan Taylor Thomas) is more well-rounded and behaves like an actual child. His naivety gets him into trouble, and he is belligerent. He even refers to himself as a “really bad boy” and loves earning money as the star of a puppet show. In the end, we feel that his transformation into a human is not only enchanting but (most importantly) well-deserved.

Disney’s version will always be timeless. But the Thomas version is much more relatable.

The Cricket 

For me, the crickets in both films are a bit of a hit or miss.

What makes Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) such a pivotal character is his presence throughout the entire movie, as the little top-hat wearing bug serves as Pinocchio’s conscience (literally and figuratively). He is funny and charming and allows the puppet to make mistakes to learn lessons.

On the other hand, Pepe (David Doyle) is more like a seasoned uncle with a sharp wit. (My only complaint is that his design is on par with Son of the Mask.) Although he only appears when necessary, each time he appears on screen, he still offers some pretty good advice for Pinocchio and the kids watching.

Although it came close, though, I have to pick Jiminy Cricket simply because (hands down) he does have more of a personality than Pepe and has a more important role in Pinocchio’s life (and the film, overall).


Let’s face it. The weakest points of Disney’s Pinocchio are the villains. Although Stromboli and the Coachman might scare a few toddlers in the audience, they are just run-of-the-mill maniacal bad guys with evil grins. They leave the film as quickly as they entered and are just as easily forgotten.

There is only ONE Lorenzini.

From the moment he steps on screen, we know he’s pure evil, loves being evil, and means business. I dare even say he’s on par with some Disney baddies. Come on. How cool is a villain who eats vintage chili peppers and breathes fire?

Hands down the best point about Lorenzini is his unpredictability. He's always calm and poised, like a snake about to strike. Actor Udo Kier delivers an astonishingly great performance as a deceptive monster who delights in leading children down the path of temptation, much like Mr. Dark from Something Wicked This Way Comes.

No contest. Point goes to The Adventures of Pinocchio for producing a deliciously evil bad guy.

Supporting Cast

When it came to casting Geppetto, you couldn’t have picked a better actor than the late Martin Landau. He’s pretty much on par with the Disney version of the woodcarver, though I will admit that Landau’s performance does seem more heartfelt at times. He sacrifices a life with Pinocchio so his wooden son can have a family, and Landau’s superior acting conveys the raw emotion of this story to a tee.

Overall, I was never a huge fan of the Fox and Cat from the story. In the Disney version, Honest John and Gideon simply exist for taking part in slapstick or getting Pinocchio into trouble. In Adventures, Bebe Neuwirth and Rob Schneider play Felinet and Volpe, two human thieves on par with 60s Batman villains, but that’s probably why I remember them so fondly.

Lampwick is pretty fun in both versions, but I will admit the Disney version is funnier and more memorable. The one in Adventures is just your average 90s kid stuck in a period piece.

And of course, we can’t forget our favorite sea monster: the whale that swallows Geppetto and Pinocchio. Honestly, I think this beast has a great buildup in both films, and each giant monster looks like something out of a child’s nightmare. Still, Monstro wins because (like any great beastie) he has a lot of buildup that pays off to one heck of a reveal.

Definitely a mixed bag, but I’ll have to give points to the Disney supporting cast.

The Story 

The Adventures of Pinocchio is a gorgeous film with some of the best sets and costumes I’ve ever seen in a live-action fairy tale adaptation, but lovely visuals alone cannot support a story with so many loopholes. Ironically, the first half and the ending of Adventures are incredible, but the middle is filled with a ton of unnecessary plot elements and (let’s face it) some goofy 90s slapstick humor that is highly unnecessary.

Quite opposite is Disney’s Pinocchio, which has a coherent story and setting from beginning to end. Its visuals are stunning (obviously), and each moment of happiness is perfectly paired with moments of terror, leading up to one of the greatest climaxes in cinema history.

Both films’ versions of Pleasure Island are top-notch, and I will admit that Adventures manages to up the creep factor with its infamous donkey scene …which still haunts the souls of us 90s kids.

Regarding the way the story is set out, I still have to give the gold star to Disney for following a pattern.

Final Verdict 

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the classic Pinocchio as a child, as much as I love it today. In fact, it keeps getting better each time I see it. The animation is some of the best I’ve seen in a Disney film, and the scary moments are truly nightmare-worthy. Still, I will admit that, as amazing as this movie might be, Pinocchio never stuck with me like the other Disney films.

Want to know which movie has stuck with me since I watched it one time in 1997? The Adventures of Pinocchio, that’s what. I used to sing Brian May and Sissel Kyrkjebø's “What Are We Made Of?” all the time as a child (just as much as that catchy theme song from The Neverending Story), and I could remember over 12 lines of dialogue from this movie, even though I haven’t seen it in over 20 years.

When you hold onto something like that, especially as a child, you know something is special, even if it has its flaws. That right there is proof of a good family film.

So, even though the Disney film technically might be the superior of the two, I still have a soft spot for The Adventures of Pinocchio. Sure, it has its speed bumps and 90s corniness, but it’s still packed with emotion, carrying enough happy moments and dark moments to create a great fairy tale. For me, this 1996 classic comes out as the winner.