Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest film, Wish, is not only an inspiring fairytale, but it’s also a celebration of the studio’s 100 year legacy. Encapsulating the iconic song, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” from Cinderella, Wish, is the kind of story that both celebrates the past, but also hopes for an even better future.
Recently, Senior Writer Elijah Johnson had the opportunity to sit down with the filmmakers behind Disney’s latest animated story, including Jennifer Lee, who wrote the screenplay and serves as executive producer on the film, directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, and producers Peter Del Vecho and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones.
Lee, who is also Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer, talked about how the themes in Wish are both timely and timeless, and that the concept of making a wish is complex.
“One of the things when we were looking at our legacy, but also thinking about something that’s very profound that we all share is, that thing that drives you heart. Your purpose, your wish, as you will. And wish is such a simple concept, but with it comes such complexity,” Lee said. “So I think to look at the power of wishing but also the vulnerability of wishing, and this need, if you see something in the world and you want to change it, that you have the drive to do so, I think is a piece of that wish as well. I always love the ideas that resonate at any time, they’re timely and timeless, and wishing is such a human thing. And I think right now, why it’s so important today, in such a complex world, it can at times feel hard to find that hope and that light or think you can dare to have that wish. And I hope this film helps you reconnect with that.”
Lee also talked about the diverse cast of characters in the film, which includes disabled characters, neurodiverse characters and different experiences and why that was important for this story.
“One of the things that’s a part of the story that’s really fun, was that idea that this is a kingdom that’s built on a philosophy, and it started from nothing, and everyone came because they believe in that philosophy…so that in itself was this wonderful opportunity to have folks from all around the world….In the studio, people work here from all around the world and have all different abilities. All of us, in our daily lives, that’s who we’re with every day. This is our 100th anniversary film, we should all be together,” Lee said.
Lee further elaborated that the concept of community was an important part of the story from early in the film’s development. Even as the story continued to evolve through the creative process, Lee said that the theme of community did not.
“The concept of how the sense of the power of community that’s important at the end of the film, was there…the community itself coming together are far stronger than you know. And that’s an important story for all of us,” Lee said.
Director Fawn Veerasunthorn, who is of Thai descent, previously worked on films like Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon, and is making her directing debut with Wish. She talked about the way the film celebrates Disney’s legacy.
“Wish talks about that spark inside each and every one of us that drives you closer to your dream. And what a perfect way to celebrate 100 years of Disney animation than talking about someone wishing upon a star and have their dream come true,” Veerasunthorn said.
Of course, part of Disney’s legacy includes iconic villains that audiences love to hate…or sometimes just love to love. While purely evil villains haven’t been as prevalent in recent Disney animated films, director Chris Buck talked about how Wish features the return of the Disney villain with King Magnifico, voiced by Chris Pine.
“We have so many great villains in our legacy. Let’s really celebrate that and see if we can come up with a new one. A villain that you know is the villain from very early on. He starts pretty charming, then you see his descent into villainy. Once he comes on screen and he is that villain, it’s that villain that you love to hate that we all grew up on,” Buck said.
Buck also talked about Wish’s hero, Asha, and why she is so uniquely connected to Ariana DeBose, who voiced the character.
“I think what made her unique was actually Ariana DeBose. We came up with a look for Asha, but Ariana brings such a specificity to Asha and so much of herself to it. We let her play, collaborate with us,” Buck said. “Her passion, her drive, her smarts, her quirkiness, her humor, everything about that. We video tape all the sessions that they do, the recording sessions, and the animators would study those and they watch all the nuances in the face. There’s so much of Ariana in Asha,”
In talking about what she hopes audiences will take away from the film, both Buck and Veerasunthorn said that they hope it will inspire people to chase their dreams.
“There is no greater power than someone with a true wish in their heart,” Buck said simply.
“I hope that the film brings viewers joy and hope and the sense of possibility in a time of doubt. That they walk out of theater feeling encouraged to dust off their dreams, whatever they had, maybe life got in the way, feeling like it’s time to do it,” Veerasunthorn said.
For producers Peter Del Vecho and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones, who have worked on a variety of Disney animated films like Frozen and Raya and the Last Dragon, Wish represents a culmination of the studio’s legacy.
“We wanted to tell an original fairytale, original songs, original characters, but evoke what it means to watch a Disney animated movie. So we gathered people from around the studio and words like hope and dreaming and wishes and wishing on a star came up a lot so that was the inception of the idea [for Wish],” Del Vecho said.
Disney’s animated films are known for having adorable and beloved supporting characters, and in Wish, the Star certainly fits the bill. Interestingly, Del Vecho mentioned that while the Star seems like a simple character, it was actually the most challenging to develop. “The star character is probably our biggest challenge at the same time. We went through many versions of what Star could be, landing on what seems the simplest but also the most complex because you have a character who doesn’t speak, yet has to convey what Star is thinking, what Star is feeling, but it’s also an animator’s dream. It took a journey for us to realize that the simple character would be the answer,” Del Vecho said.
For Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones, he shared Veerasunthorn and Buck’s hopes that Wish will inspire audiences to chase that dream that may have been lost in the grind of life.
“Sometimes you forget what your wish is, you’re a little older, and you look back and it’s like ‘Oh yeah, that little piece of me has been forgotten,’ so I wish that people take that piece of them and reclaim it for themselves,” Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones said.
Wish premieres in theaters on November 22nd. Read our full review.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish” is an all-new musical-comedy welcoming audiences to the magical kingdom of Rosas, where Asha, a sharp-witted idealist, makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, Asha and Star confront a most formidable foe—the ruler of Rosas, King Magnifico—to save her community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen. Featuring the voices of Academy Award®-winning actor Ariana DeBose as Asha, Chris Pine as Magnifico, and Alan Tudyk as Asha’s favorite goat, Valentino, the film is helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (“Raya and the Last Dragon”), and produced by Peter Del Vecho (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones (“Encanto”). With a screenplay by Jennifer Lee (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) and Allison Moore (“Night Sky,” “Manhunt”), original songs by Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy winning producer/songwriter/musician Benjamin Rice, plus original score by composer Dave Metzger, “Wish” opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023.
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.