When Disney Animation head Jennifer Lee announced Wish as the company’s century celebration film during their 2022 D23 Upcoming Slate Presentation, fans were skeptical. To celebrate 100 years of Disney magic, Lee told the audience that the studio would be producing a new animated musical based on the titular star from their theme tune “When You Wish Upon A Star,” with recent Oscar winner Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) attached to voice the lead character. It felt to many like Disney was indeed scraping the bottom of the IP barrel. Unfortunately, despite a sizeable effort, the finished product manages to prove those initial criticisms well founded.
Wish comes from co-directors Chris Buck (Frozen, Tarzan) and animator-turned-first-time-helmer Fawn Veerasunthorn, with Lee and Allison Moore behind the screenplay. The film is set in the medieval era within the Kingdom of Rosas, where King Magnifico (Chris Pine) and his wife Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral) rule and govern. The deal? If one wants to live in the Kingdom of Rosas, under the protection of Magnifico, residents must give him their one true wish as part of a ceremony when they turn 18. When 17-year-old Asha (DeBose) discovers Magnifico’s dark secret, she makes a wish so powerful that a literal star shoots down from the night sky to help her.
The cinematic fairytale begins with a classic but sloppy storybook introduction, as Asha explains the history of the Kingdom of Rosas to the audience. This opening sequence highlights Wish‘s biggest problem: the writing and directing just don’t match up. The unfortunate result is a movie that never lives up to its potential.
Visually, that opening and the rest of the film work wonders as an homage to past Disney classics. The watercolour animation style is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Some frames look like paintings taken directly from the Louvre. The defined pencil strokes, the wider aspect ratio, and gorgeous nods to Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and more will hit any Disney fan right in the feels.
But after the first few sequences, it quickly becomes clear that Wish’s underdeveloped story doesn’t live up to the studio’s gorgeous animation. At the film’s conclusion, Wish feels uncannily like a generic version of modern Disney hits like Encanto or Moana. It contains only a few moments of the distinct magic that so often elevates the animated classics that have come before. The very best Disney films are simple, but this one is anything but simple in premise and ultimately presents far more questions than it gives answers.
The fact that Wish’s most significant flaw is its story is severely disappointing, given one of the film’s greatest strengths is its initial premise. An animated feature representing a century of Disney Animation seems like a no brainer. The idea of a young girl trying to stop her King from stealing his Kingdom’s wishes is also great. Combining them into one overarching concept could have been great, but with the creative choices made, Wish is messy and overcrowded.
At the film’s start, Asha visits her best friend Dahlia at Dahlia’s bakery. When she arrives, we meet their six other friends who combine to represent the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White, an idea perfect for a Disney celebration, but not one with the story complexity that Wish has and should be focusing on. What’s worse is that the film actually had the time to explore most things the movie sets up, but the writing ignores those more unique features in favour of generic adventure story beats. In fact, the most entertaining parts of Wish are all in the first 25 minutes. After that, the plot grinds to a halt and rarely escalates in any non-predictable way.
Wish also falls short in the villain department. Disney’s Golden Era Villains were pure evil, no questions asked. Flash-forward to the 21st century and there have been a real lack of memorable baddies. If there was ever a film primed for a new and timeless villain, Wish was it. Disappointingly, King Magnifico is a generic combination of past Disney characters without any unique or delicious characteristics to make him iconic. That’s perhaps most perfectly laid out in King Magnifico’s villain song “This Is The Thanks I Get?!” which is catchy but, as many have pointed out, sounds nothing like a Disney villain song.
The music in Wish comes from pop singer/songwriters Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice. While both are immensely talented, they were perhaps not the greatest pick for this project. “This Wish”, sung beautifully by DeBose, is the only track that comes close to evoking the feeling one gets from listening to their favourite Disney themes. The rest of the soundtrack is akin to the mediocre pop fair you hear on the radio and immediately turn off or tune out. Given one of the most necessary attributes of a Disney animated classic is lavish musical numbers, the lack of memorable ones in Wish is extremely disappointing. It’s baffling that the studio approved these songs, knowing what the movie was attempting to celebrate.
With all of these clashing creative choices, Wish is yet another cinematic example of the lack of focussed Disney leadership. It’s becoming painfully apparent in the finished product across every brand under the conglomerate’s massive umbrella. Wish could have been a timeless classic if it had a hint of its own identity and embraced the necessary elements of iconic Disney films of the past. Since the film commits to neither, it seems unlikely Wish will be the bright star Disney Animation desperately wanted it to be.
Luckily, the studio just announced two more Frozen movies to look forward to.
Wish opens theatrically on Wednesday, November 22.