100 years of anything is something few achieve and even fewer accomplish with the level of consistency, influence and innovation as “The House of Mouse.” And as Disney celebrates its 100th year, it only made sense to approach the milestone anniversary with both reflection and homage to its iconic creations: hand-drawn animated films like Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia. When you combine that classic touch with modern sensibilities and technologies, that they helped pioneer, you have Walt Disney Animation Studio’s newest offering – the heartwarming, catchy and sincere, Wish.
Wish takes place in the kingdom of Rosas and follows Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose), a vivacious young woman who believes in magic (literally and figuratively) and trusts King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), a ruler who turns out to be neither as wise nor loving as he appears.
The concept is straightforward: the magical ruler of a kingdom becomes a dictator in what he deems is in the best interest of the people, and it’s up to the dashing young heroine to overthrow him, with a little help from her friends.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Wish premieres in theaters November 22nd.
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.
REVIEW – A Brilliant Homage that Feels Familiar
Wish centers around Asha, her trusty sidekick Valentino the Goat (voiced by Alan Tudyk), and their incidental partner-in-crime, Star, who adds some actual pixie dust to the situation. They’re surrounded by Asha’s friends and family, all of whom are subtle nods to past friend groups and dynamics across various Disney films.
The good news is that you never get lost in the sauce, but the downside is that the film is very linear, and most of the characters lack their own compelling backstories. The film does work around that by offering the concept of “wishes,” which offers insight into each characters’ desires, but it doesn’t offer quite the amount of depth that the film could’ve benefited from by perhaps scaling down the supporting cast and honing in on one or two sidekicks. That said, each member of the team offers a unique perspective on the situation and provides picture perfect comedic timing.
One thing Wish implements with sincerity is visual diversity; featuring characters with a variety of abilities, appearances and neurodiversity. Asha’s best friend, Dahlia (voiced by Jennifer Kumiyama)—the castle chef who bakes her signature King Magnifico cookies—walks with a crutch and is the absolute brain of the entire operation. Each and every member plays their part with earnest charm and will quickly grow on viewers.
Unfortunately, Asha isn’t as original one would hope. She’s plucky like Rapunzel, faithful like Mirabel, brave like Merida and daring like Moana. In the filmmakers’ eagerness to pay homage to the past, they ended up crafting a heroine who feels like one we’ve seen several times over by now. That isn’t to say that Asha doesn’t have heart—she’s expressively and masterfully portrayed by the powerhouse that is Ariana DeBose. Beautifully designed and perfectly acted, Asha is an easy protagonist to get behind even if she’s not completely unique.
The message of Wish is relevant and timeless: A dream is a wish your heart makes, and a wish is what makes the world go round. Wish introduces us to a variety of characters, young and old, like Asha’s parents, who have all but given up on their dream or have otherwise surrendered it to King Magnifico. Without their wishes, the people become docile and dormant shells of themselves, which is exactly how Magnifico prefers his subjects, so he can rule in perpetuity. It’s a great metaphor for this day and age. As humans and as a society, we are nothing without passion, and without passion we have no compass or desire. As the saying goes, if we stand for nothing, we will fall for anything.
Visually, Wish takes us on a best-of, greatest-hits ride through Disney’s animation archives: Every technique, from watercolor backgrounds to CGI characters, and everything in between, makes an appearance here, and it builds a strikingly unique visual language. Thanks in part to the hand-drawn elements, the look of the film is both buoyant and soulful, while the 3D elements bring the visuals into present times. Viewers are treated to some of the most aesthetically rich scenes in recent Disney history.
Speaking of homages, there are so many clever throwbacks and Easter eggs from classic films that Wish turns into a scavenger hunt that die-hard Disney fans will absolutely enjoy and even casual movies-goers will appreciate. I managed to catch some recurring, very explicit Snow White and Sleeping Beauty references throughout the film to the point where I wondered whether the movie was hinting at being a prequel of some sort.
Disney is a studio that’s known for, among many things, its memorable music in films; the prime examples being Frozen’s “Let It Go” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and Encanto’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Enter the music of Wish. Penned by pop superstar Julia Michaels, the soundtrack is stacked with what are sure to be certified hits, with “At All Costs”—a duet between Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine—being my personal favorite.
The song is a heartwarming, romantic piece that’s sung to the audience and to some extent between the two characters in a moment of vulnerability from them both. The only track that misses a step is the villain song, “This Is The Thanks I Get”. It’s far too poppy and uncharacteristically upbeat to the point that it comes off tonally incongruous, as Magnifico smashes and dashes his way across his castle, complaining about the ungrateful subjects of his kingdom.
Chris Pine’s Magnifico is a very important character in the grand scheme of Disney films. He represents the return of the proper Disney villain, after an antagonist drought that has stretched through the last several Disney animated movies, which have placed themes like parental guilt (Turning Red), bigotry (Elemental) and personal insecurity (Encanto) as the hero’s true nemesis. Nothing ever beats an embodiment of evil—someone people can love to hate, a la Scar in The Lion King, and we find that in Pine’s brilliant turn as Magnifico.
In addition to the sung elements, David Metzger captures Disney magic with his orchestration. He perfectly reflects the tension, joy, curiosity and entire spectrum of emotions through the score, with its subtle homages and motifs.
The pace of the film is quite even, but something about the final showdown left something to be desired. While the climax sends a lovely message, it lacks the impact of historical Disney boss battles like The Prince vs. Maleficient, Aladdin vs. Jafar, or Tarzan vs. Clayton.
After the end of the film, the credits cut to a black backdrop overlayed with simple, starry sketches of some of Disney’s most iconic and also underrated heroes, like Stitch, Jim Hawkins, Brother Bear and Mirabel Madrigal. It’s hard not to erupt in applause or tears when you reflect on a legacy like that. And maybe when all is said and done, it is the power of a simple wish that can make us fight harder, dream bigger and go farther than we thought. With the power of belief in ourselves and with the right people around us, there truly can be something more for us, like Disney’s Wish.
- Beautifully rendered hand-drawn and 3D graphics
- A loveable cast
- The best soundtrack we’ve had in years from a Disney film
- The return of the Disney Villain!
- Asha is not the most original protagonist
- Magnifico’s villain song is a bit weak—why should it sound so celebratory when the man is having a breakdown?
RATING – 4.5/5 Pocky
Elijah Isaiah Johnson is a writer/illustrator/animator. His most recently published works include the Amazon best-seller Nightmare Detective, Noir is the New Black, the Comixology Indie best-selling series Leaders of the Free World, The Formula and much more.