A Charming, If Flawed, Ode To Disney’s Past
Nov 20, 2023
Wish is a new animated film from Disney that serves as both a celebration of the studio’s legacy and a new original story, though the latter is not as successful. The movie pays tribute to Disney’s history through countless Easter eggs and inventive animation that resembles watercolor paintings. Ariana DeBose delivers a standout performance as Asha, showcasing her strong vocals and embodying the hopeful and determined nature of her character. The film’s soundtrack features potential hit songs but may not have lasting impact.
Over the course of its 100 years as a studio, Disney has perfected its typical formula of impressive animation, imaginative stories, and addictive soundtracks. In recent years, the studio has come under closer scrutiny for its overreliance on known properties and a turn towards live-action over animation, but that hasn’t stopped Disney from producing a movie at least partially geared towards celebrating its enduring legacy. Wish, the new animated effort from directors Chris Buck (Frozen, Frozen 2) and Fawn Veerasunthorn, acts as both an homage to the company and a new original story, though the success of the latter isn’t quite as strong as the former. At the same time, it’s hard not to be charmed by the magic on display here.
Wish revolves around Asha (Ariana DeBose), a young woman living in the kingdom of Rosas with her mother and grandfather. Rosas is special because of its king, Magnifico (Chris Pine), and the power he wields: Whenever someone turns 18, they give their deepest, purest wish to Magnifico for safekeeping, and he grants some every so often. Asha, filled with plenty of hopes and dreams for the future, aims to become Magnifico’s apprentice and aid in this beloved ceremony. However, the idealistic girl soon realizes all is not as it seems in the palace, and Magnifico isn’t as benevolent as he appears. Asha then carries out that most sacred of all Disney phrases – wishing on a star – and is granted the power to truly make a difference for Rosas; assuming, of course, she can outwit the power-hungry king.
With a script written by Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Allison Moore (building off a story also devised by the two directors), Wish plumbs the depths of Disney’s history in many ways, from countless Easter eggs to its inventive animation style. Striking a resemblance to watercolor paintings through the use of CG, the movie looks like a storybook come to life and stands out from Disney’s more recent animated offerings. Only occasionally do the visuals feel flat; the images are strongest when centering around the individual character designs. Among Wish’s cast of characters, Asha and Magnifico are the most defined. Asha has a group of friends who, as some viewers may catch, call back to another familiar Disney group and have easily definable traits but little development to their personalities, which does lessen the impact of their involvement. Frequent Disney voice actor Alan Tudyk gets a fun role as Valentino, Asha’s pet goat, that pays off his past performing as several non-verbal animals; once again, his vocal talents impress.
DeBose almost instantly solidifies herself as one of Disney’s strongest leading ladies. The Oscar winner perfectly portrays Asha’s hopeful, eager nature, and when her spirit is dimmed by the revelation of Magnifico’s villainy, it’s easy to empathize with her. Unsurprisingly, DeBose’s vocals soar throughout Wish’s many musical numbers. Written by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice, there are several songs within the movie’s soundtrack that feel poised to become hits, from Asha’s rousing solo “This Wish” to the ensemble number “Knowing What I Know Now.” Other songs, like the animal-friendly “I’m a Star” don’t quite hit as hard, suggesting the entire Wish soundtrack may not stand the test of time.
Voice of Ariana DeBose in Wish
Normally known for heroic roles like James T. Kirk and Steve Trevor, Pine seems to be having a ball as the villain, relishing each nasty line reading as Magnifico sinks deeper and deeper into his evil ways. The performance is excellent, even when the writing loses its way. Magnifico’s motivations are thinly drawn, and it doesn’t help that the movie’s description of what a wish actually is – and beyond that, what they mean to each individual person – is somewhat hard to pin down. We know Magnifico’s hoarding of everybody’s wishes is bad, but mostly because Asha is so horrified by the act. Once Asha wishes on the star that then comes down to aid her in her quest (from then on only referred to as Star), Magnifico goes full bad guy, and while that leads to some really fun visuals, it also feels rather sudden.
The Disney faithful will no doubt find plenty to enjoy within Wish. The movie is positively bursting with references to the studio’s past century, from offhand comments to noticeable homages. Some might find this exhausting; I personally enjoyed picking out what I could, even if I found myself distracted trying to piece together one particular Easter egg. Nevertheless, I’m certain there’s plenty I missed, so perhaps it’s even more overwhelming than I realized. A particularly sweet tribute comes in the credits itself, which features imagery honoring previous movies and ends with a genuinely delightful stinger. As a special tribute to Disney’s history, Wish succeeds mostly through these references; on its own, it feels a bit slighter. It’s an interesting idea, trying to base a story around the idea of wishing on a star, a concept that has been Disney’s foundation for decades, but Wish struggles due to a weaker script. But I can’t lie: I was charmed by Asha’s story and the vibrant world she lives in, and that can make up for any flaws in the execution.
Wish debuts in theaters on Wednesday, November 22. It is 92 minutes long and rated PG for thematic elements and mild action.
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