The New Pinocchio Swaps Conscience for “Authenticity”

The New Pinocchio Swaps Conscience for “Authenticity”

As for lessons learned, Pinocchio in 2022 does not turn into the boy that Geppetto had wished for, as in 1940. He remains a puppet, no doubt as a sign of his authenticity and acceptance for himself as is. That suggests an underlying truth—children brought up with such beliefs can never really grow up.

American parents used to trust Disney to charm their kids with beautiful fairy tales. Most such tales were European in origin, but Disney Americanized them, made them more democratic, less bloody minded, and ultimately hopeful. It started with animations, then added amusement parks, then any number of other things that made American technical ingenuity and prosperity gentle and pleasant, until it became the most important educator of the imagination of children in the entire media industry.

Nowadays, Disney is reeducating American children to believe in a woke agenda most Americans don’t share, wouldn’t vote for, but might somehow be tricked into financing when their attention is diverted. It seems to have traded delightful surprises for involvement in political scandals, as in Florida, or media scandals over every aspect of casting and plot. Indeed, it courts scandal as a marketing strategy, dividing Americans rather than uniting them, and using its reputation to make it seem as though the very people who gave Disney their vaunted reputation are immoral. What happened?

There are many aspects to this very important story, and some thoughtful conservative should take the time to elucidate them. All I can do today is point out the educational aspect of this change—What is the role of the imagination in education?—by comparing Disney’s Pinocchio (1940) with the new Disney+ movie directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring none other than America’s last lovable actor, Tom Hanks.

Pinocchio is a story about how children learn to become moral. The puppet is a metaphor not only for helplessness but also for the way children are made to do what they do by their parents—it points to our imitative nature, and much of the comedy depends on the awkwardness of the children, who are self-important without being self-aware in their imitation, and the foibles, to say no more, of the adults, who recognize their faults magnified in the small versions of themselves they have made, the focus of their love and life. The puppeteer Geppetto’s wish upon a star, to have a real boy, is every parent’s wish that their child turn out right.

Walt Disney’s contribution to Carlo Collodi’s original story, Jiminy Cricket, is a metaphor for conscience. Jiminy defines it by an old and trusty adage: “The still, small voice that people won’t listen to. That’s just the problem with the world today!” It’s not hard to know what’s right and wrong in many cases, indeed, but it’s hard to do it, it comes at a cost, and without certainty of reward. That problem of character, rather than of knowledge, might not be solvable. After all, our admiration of good character depends to some extent on our knowledge of its rarity!

But in this moment when Jiminy introduces himself to Pinocchio, he gets so carried away with confidence in the power of morality that he leaves character behind, taking it for granted. Instead, he insists on the intellectual part of morality and quickly gets himself in trouble: “The world is full of temptations. They’re the wrong things that seem right at the time. But even though the right things may seem wrong sometimes, sometimes the wrong things may be right at the wrong time, or vice versa. Understand?”

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