THE STORY – In the Kingdom of Rosas which is located off of the Iberian Peninsula, a 17-year-old girl named Asha senses a darkness that no one else does about the kingdom’s ruler King Magnifico. This leads to her making a passionate plea to the stars. In response to her wish, a star named Star comes from the sky and is revealed to have magical powers. Together, Asha and Star must overcome the evil in Rosas and fight for a better future for their people.
THE CAST – Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Kumiyama, Harvey Guillén, Evan Peters, Ramy Youssef & Jon Rudnitsky
THE TEAM – Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn (Directors), Jennifer Lee & Allison Moore (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes
For the past 100 years, Disney has been a leader in animation, bringing fairy tales to life and inspiring generations of audiences to believe in magic. Countless heartfelt ballads sung about true love and dreams coming alive have left an indelible mark on pop culture worldwide. Now, in the studio’s 100th year, comes “Wish,” a charming culmination of Disney magic. The film is an intentionally self-aware project, calling back to the classic films audiences know and love through its themes and explicit references. It’s a bold move to remix what some may call tired tropes that have served audiences well over the years. However, “Wish” has a winning combination of reinvigorated ideas and gorgeous voice performances, even if everything in the movie does not work perfectly.
Like Disney’s earliest features, the prologue to “Wish” is told through a storybook. After facing a tragedy he couldn’t stop, King Magnifico (magnificently voiced by Chris Pine) dedicated his life to learning all the magic he could so that he might one day grant any wish that came his way from his people. He was successful in this journey and founded a kingdom called Rosas off of the Iberian Peninsula where people could come to live, with the chance that the King might grant their wishes. There’s a catch, of course. As people give their wishes to the King, they instantly forget what that wish was, abandoning any dreams they may have had for the future. Additionally, he doesn’t grant every wish, just one per month or so, treating it as a special privilege for the people of Rosas. Still, the people love their King, and although they may not remember what they wished for, maybe they won’t live with the disappointment of the wish not coming true. At least, that’s how King Magnifico sees it. As Asha (Academy Award-winner Ariana DeBose) interviews to be the King’s assistant, she discovers his nasty little secret: only he can decide which wishes to grant, and only if there’s no possible way it can threaten his power. Thus, hundreds of wishes are left ungranted and unremembered. Devastated, Asha confronts the King, but she’s left powerless to challenge his reign. That is until she wishes upon a star for something to change, and that star comes to life to help her defeat the King and grant all the kingdom’s wishes.
The setup of “Wish” works quite well. While the “wish upon a star” trope is well-trodden, the film freshens up the idea and spins it around in a charmingly optimistic story. It’s not the granting of important wishes that matters, but it’s the hope that lives in people’s hearts that counts. Without wishes, people lose their passions, spark, and light to keep going. Magic may be wonderful, but people should be empowered to make their dreams come true. With this twist, “Wish” challenges the oft-told Disney stories and breathes new life into them. It’s an intriguing concept, even if not everything about the story comes together just right. A plethora of side characters threatens to bog the story down a bit, including one too many sidekicks (Alan Tudyk playing Asha’s goat Valentino has to compete with the sure-to-be money-making character that is Star), and King Magnifico’s turn from magnanimous ruler to evil dictator happens at lightning speed. Still, the film moves at a quick pace, ensuring audiences won’t feel their time was wasted for 95 minutes.
And what would Disney’s 100th anniversary be without music? “This Wish” is the film’s big ballad, luminously sung by DeBose. Written by Julia Michaels, Benjamin Rice, and JP Saxe, the song features grand orchestration with a driving pop beat that fits Asha perfectly. While not all of the songs work quite as well, this is a solid moment bolstered by a beautiful score from Dave Metzger. Other highlights include Pine’s wickedly sinister but dazzling “This Is The Thanks I Get?!” and the rousing anti-authoritative “Knowing What I Know Now.”
Though Disney remains the pinnacle of animation in the entertainment industry, a recent wave of films like “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” have showcased a bold, new style into the computer animation space. Disney seems to have taken note, attempting a distinctly “storybook” look and feel for “Wish.” Unfortunately, it yields middling results. The visuals often look cheap and flat, robbing the story of whatever magic it attempted to conjure up with a shockingly bland blend of traditional watercolor and computer animation. Rather than Disney answering the challengers and retaining their crown in the animated world, the visual style of “Wish” makes it look like Disney can’t compete, and will need to return to the drawing board if they want to recapture audiences’ imagination again.
Thankfully, “Wish” mainly works despite the massive misstep in the overall visual presentation. In so many ways, this feels like a lovely distillation of everything audiences have loved about Disney films over the years. However, because of that, it may feel overly familiar, but telling a story of societal resistance towards a selfish, oppressive ruler through the perspective of a woman of color does instill some excitement. Disney fans will likely also love the countless references and hidden gems to other classic films found within the film’s animation and dialogue. There’s just enough magic within “Wish” to win over audiences, even if it’s not shining as brightly as one would wish.