REVIEW — “Wish”
In celebration of the Walt Disney Company’s 100th birthday, Walt Disney Animation Studios releases its latest animated musical, Wish. Unfortunately, the fairytale doesn’t shine as bright as it wishes.
Directed by Chris Buck (Frozen, Frozen 2) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (Raya and the Last Dragon) from a screenplay by Frozen writer Jennifer Lee, Wish introduces us to young, determined idealist, Asha (Ariana DeBose). She lives in the magical kingdom of Rosas where wishes can actually be granted by its sorcerer King Magnifico (Chris Pine).
The film gets to it with the upbeat but exposition-heavy opening number “Welcome to Rosas.” Even Asha gets lost explaining the convoluted rules of the kingdom: citizens get to make their one heart’s wish when they turn 18, but immediately forget their wish once it is made. And, for some reason, the king holds onto their wishes for safekeeping, only choosing to grant the wishes that best serve the kingdom once a year.
Also turning 100 is Asha’s grandfather Sabino (Victor Garber), a kind old soul whose pure wish was never granted. Fortunately, Asha has a plan to become the sorcerer king’s apprentice and make her saba’s wish come true. When she dares to question the arrogant and power-hungry authoritarian king, he refuses to grant her grandfather’s wish. This forces Asha to make a wish on a shining star for the power to change the fates of the people of Rosas in the film’s best number, “This Wish.” When the magically chonky Star comes to her aid, its power is sensed by the threatened king. Turning to dark magic in defense, he launches a nefarious agenda to steal his people’s wishes for his own gain.
With the help of Star, her seven dwarf-inspired band of friends (Evan Peters, Harvey Guillén, Ramy Youssef, Jennifer Kumiyama, Niko Vargas, Jon Rudnitsky, and Della Saba), and her newly speaking goat sidekick, Valentino (Alan Tudyk), Asha must race to rescue everyone’s wishes and thwart the villainous king before his growing power enslaves the hearts of Rosas forever.
The musical-comedy features catchy original songs by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice that sound inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s signature tempo, plus a soaring original score by composer Dave Metzger. The tunes are decent, but your kids won’t be humming them on the ride home. They all lack the staying power and earworminess of “Let It Go” and other recent Disney hits. While vivid, the film’s animation style is a watercolored hybrid of classic hand-drawn and computer animation, similar in style to the Disney Channel’s Sofia the First or Elena of Avalor.
Because Wish is packed full of Disney Easter eggs, hidden Mickeys, and nods to characters like Bambi, Peter Pan, the Magic Mirror, and Fairy Godmother, one would assume it is building toward its reveal as a precursor to all other Disney princess films. Throughout the film, it made me guess that, perhaps, it is a prequel that kicks off a shared Disney universe? But, alas, all those references do not pay off and only serve more to distract from the film’s thin narrative. However, Pine is wonderful playing the diabolical Gaston-like king, and DeBose shines bright as the film’s heroine with impressive vocals that really steal the show.
On paper, Wish checks all the boxes with an all-star voice cast, colorful animation, peppy musical numbers, and an uplifting message that we are all capable of making our wishes come true if we believe in ourselves (or something?). However, it fails to capture the warm and familiar essence of the Disney magic that it is mimicking. Ultimately, Wish is a seldom entertaining misfire that I wish was better. 3/5
Rated PG with a runtime of 1 hour and 35 minutes, Wish opens in theaters on November 22, 2023.