‘Wish’ Review — Disney Creates a Shell of Their Best Films

Nov 20, 2023

The Big Picture

Wish is a disappointment and one of the least magical films to come from Disney Animation Studios in years, despite attempting to celebrate Disney’s 100-year milestone. The voice performances in Wish are a highlight, with Chris Pine as the villainous King Magnifico and Ariana DeBose bringing the character of Asha to life. The screenplay of Wish is lacking in originality and fails to capture the magic and world-building that Disney is known for, resulting in a forgettable and generic film.

This year, Disney is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and in doing so, the company has given its audience plenty of reminders of how magical they’ve made this past century, from changing its logo to plenty of merchandise. Last month, Disney released Once Upon a Studio, a delightful celebration of the studio’s animated projects over the years, which captured the wonder and heart of these films and featured hundreds of characters from their exhaustive library—all within a nine-minute short. For the 62nd film from Disney Animation, Wish also attempts to celebrate the milestone in its own way, liberally referencing the beloved films of the past, while giving us a new story for the Disney canon. Unfortunately, Wish ends up feeling like a shell of past Disney successes, and one of the least magical films to come from Walt Disney Animation Studios in years.

Wish Wish follows a young girl named Asha who wishes on a star and gets a more direct answer than she bargained for when a trouble-making star comes down from the sky to join her. Release Date November 23, 2023 Director Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn Cast Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Ariana DeBose, Evan Peters Rating PG Runtime 92 minutes Genres Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Wishing has always been integral to Disney animated films. The first song in Disney’s first animated film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, entitled “I’m Wishing,” had Snow White singing for love, while “When You Wish Upon a Star” from 1940’s Pinocchio has essentially become the studio’s theme. So naturally, centering a film around wishing seems like the perfect way to commemorate this accomplishment.

What Is ‘Wish’ About?

Wish takes us to the kingdom of Rosas, created by King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) and his wife Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral). The king has the power to grant the people’s wishes, and every inhabitant of the kingdom gives the king their wish on their 18th birthday. The people forget their wishes, but once a month, King Magnifico grants one of them. One of the residents of Rosas, the 17-year-old Asha (Ariana DeBose), has an interview to become the apprentice for Magnifico—which happens to coincide with the 100th birthday of her grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber). While the interview seems to go well, Asha asks the king to grant her grandfather’s wish—which he refuses. It doesn’t take long before Asha discovers that the king’s reasoning for who he picks is flawed and that any ungranted wishes aren’t returned to their owners; instead, they’re simply lost forever. After Asha makes a wish on a star, it ends up falling from the sky, and together, they attempt to save the people of Rosas from the stranglehold King Magnifico has on their deepest wishes.

One of the biggest strengths of Wish is the voice performances. Pine is having a good deal of fun as King Magnifico, playing the first straightforward Disney villain in an animated film in quite some time. Like the best villains, his perspective is somewhat understandable, but ultimately goes overboard. Similarly, DeBose’s performance brings this character and these songs to life in a way that this poor script and forgettable music simply can’t. The supporting cast is also quite impressive, as Asha’s group of seven friends—mimicking the seven dwarfs—includes Harvey Guillén, Evan Peters, and Ramy Youssef, and Disney stalwart Alan Tudyk is reliably fun as Asha’s goat Valentino, who eventually is granted the ability to talk by the star.

‘Wish’s Style and Songs Are Disappointing
Image via Walt Disney Studios

But for a Disney musical, the songs in Wish are unremarkable, and it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving the theater humming any of these tunes. With songs by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice, each of these tracks sounds like they’re just a few degrees away from being solid entries into the Disney canon. DeBose’s “This Wish,” should have been a rousing version of the “I Want” song, but it just falls flat, while Pine’s “This Is the Thanks I Get?!” only has any charm to it because Pine is behind the character. Especially coming off the huge success of Encanto’s soundtrack, Wish is a complete musical disappointment.

Wish’s looks also attempt to honor both the 2D and 3D periods of Disney animation with a weird amalgamation of the two. It’s admirable that directors Chris Buck (co-director of Frozen) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (story artist on Zootopia, Moana, and Ralph Breaks the Internet) want a look that feels like a blend of these two periods, but the result is a strange style that has an unnatural look akin to early 2000s DreamWorks films more than any Disney film. Later in the film, Wish borrows some interesting animation concepts that hark back to Sleeping Beauty, and occasionally, the look of the film does start to become appealing. Yet Wish always returns to its peculiar mixture that makes it feel more dated than it is.

‘Wish’s Biggest Flaws Come in the Screenplay
Image via Walt Disney Studios

It’s also surprising how generic Wish’s screenplay, from Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Allison Moore, feels. Asha doesn’t have much character on her own, as she quickly becomes little more than a cog in the plot’s machinations. Her selfless nature is a lovely attribute for a character like this to have, but it ends up leaving her without any distinguishing characters of her own. To that end, Wish just doesn’t feel like it has the magic that we’ve come to expect from a Disney film in the last century. If anything, Wish seems like a film another studio would make trying (and failing) to capture what Disney does so well. Walt Disney once complained that he didn’t want to make 1950’s Cinderella because he worried having another princess film after Snow White—released thirteen years prior—would make it seem like the company was running out of ideas. In Wish, after all these years, we start to see what Disney animation looks like when it’s simply recycling from itself.

Wish’s screenplay is a disappointing fusion of bland cliches, self-referential jokes, and bizarre plot holes. At one point, the people of Rosas confront King Magnifico and run down the laundry list of problems with his wish-granting operation—and by extension, the flaws inherent in this script. In a way, the Rosas people are the voice of the audience, curious why these choices were made within this story, which manages to be both overly convoluted and overly explained, while also leaving so many questions unanswered. Disney knows how to build a world, and Wish isn’t able to capture that same penchant for this type of creation. Even the humor in Wish leaves much to be desired. This is the type of film where a character will look at the camera and say, “I meant to do that,” or “Challenge accepted.” For a film that is attempting to be a part of a timeless legacy, Wish’s jokes already feel out of touch and out of date.

Image via Walt Disney Studios

In addition to half-assing so many aspects of this story, Wish also attempts to shoehorn in plenty of references to Disney’s history. A trip to the woods introduces characters that look surprisingly similar to Bambi and Thumper, a costume change reminds of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, and the king destroys wishes that directly reference Peter Pan and Mary Poppins. For some confounding reason, the best one of these allusions—which also pays off Sabino’s story beautifully—is saved for after the credits. But again, coming off of the far-superior Once Upon a Studio, these references end up feeling unnecessary, and only serve to remind of much better films that Wish is cribbing off of poorly.

Now, to be fair, I am certainly not Wish’s target audience, even though I do identify as an “adult Disney weirdo.” But even in a screening full of kids, the intended audience was listless throughout, only making any signs of excitement during the end credits, as characters from the majority of Disney’s animated films were presented as if created by stardust. It seems—at least based on this one screening—that both kids and adults will leave Wish longing for the magic that other films from the studio have had.

Disney has had a rich century of animation that has completely changed the format and film in general. They’ve brought a wooden boy to life, made an elephant fly, taken us under the sea, and, with films like Frozen, Encanto, and Moana, shown us that they’re still as relevant as ever. Disney has been at the forefront of animation in film for much of its 100 years and their legacy is unparalleled. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of any animated film, but Wish, with its mundane celebration of this history, is a disappointing commemoration of these accomplishments.

Rating: C-

Wish comes to theaters on November 22. Click here for showtimes near you.

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