With the arrival of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 100th anniversary, the idea to focus their celebratory film, Wish, on — well — wishes and how we can make them happen is perfectly on brand. Sometimes audiences need the reminder that we are the ones responsible for making our dreams happen because to cede that responsibility over to someone else may not deliver the results we’re expecting. So, when Disney wished upon a star to make Wish the best standout feature to celebrate the big 100, was that dream granted? Let’s break it down.
Wish is set in the kingdom of Rosas located in the Iberian Peninsula. The land is best known for King Magnifico’s (Chris Pine) ability to grant people’s wishes. When a citizen of Rosas turns 18, they relinquish their wish over to the ruler with the hope that one day their wish will be granted. With the arrival of her grandfather, Sabino’s (Victor Garber), 100th birthday, Asha (Ariana DeBose) hopes to become an apprentice to the sorcerer king to find a way to make her grandfather’s wish come true.
Unfortunately, the promise of a wish granted comes with strings attached. As Asha learns, King Magnifico makes promises he can’t guarantee to keep. Some wishes, in his eyes, are too dangerous to grant. The two clash and part ways, with Asha lamented how unfair it is that one person can determine whose wish has more power than others. It is then, through the power of her emotional song, a cosmic entity named Star plummets from the sky. With Star’s arrival, Asha and the kingdom of Rosas are challenged and — ultimately — changed.
Wish is co-directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, with the screenplay co-written by Jennifer Lee, who also serves as executive producer and animation chief Creative Officer on the film, and Allison Moore. Considering the story and the animation, Wish is an entertaining, serviceable film that is keen to remind its audiences of the importance of dreams and not waiting to make them come true. The rewatchability factor of the film is high, whether just due to the general pleasant feeling the film produces or the deep dive into nostalgia and hunting down easter eggs.
With that said, however, Wish isn’t the strongest film coming out of Walt Disney Animation Studios. A huge part of this is that it has its own legacy to live up to, and a high standard that the studio has set for itself over the decades is a daunting task for anyone. This makes it difficult not to weigh it against what’s come before it.
The animation team set a daunting task to try to emulate the watercolor style previously used in films like Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. While the team had the technology to create the watercolor backdrops, fusing the style into a 3D animated format comes with mixed results. If you take a snapshot of certain scenes in the film, it looks stunning. The colors used complement each other, creating a palette that is pleasing to the eye. The backdrops are breathtaking and emulate that watercolor visual aesthetic the team has aimed for. In motion, however, it doesn’t always register as smoothly, or captivating as intended.
Regarding the characters and their mannerisms, you can see visual cues from previous films pop up. The awkward facial expressions and physicality of Asha reminds me at times a bit too much like Rapunzel from Tangled. Whether it’s the sheer blind panic or the anxiety hair fidgeting, there are beats where it seems the characters could easily be swapped from behavioral patterns alone.
The designs of the characters are distinct despite their motion patterns. The attention to detail, particularly, for Asha is exquisite. The detail of her braided hair, how it flows, doesn’t go unnoticed. The clothing that we see featured in Wish is extraordinary, with Asha and King Magnifico’s clothing standing out. The research done here to replicate and modify the style of clothing in the Middle Ages here pays off, and I’m sure many will be eager to dress up as their favorite characters from the film.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Star, the adorable little button of light and joy that is sure to generate all the merchandise sales for Disney this holiday season. From the design to its adorable little noises to the sheer joy it exudes, Star is, well, the star of Wish. No questions asked. If you disagree, we will have words.
The voice acting is superb, with some notable standouts. Ariana DeBose showcases her range and vocal control with her take on Asha. Capturing the typical heroine voice heard in animation, she nails the youthfulness and wide range of emotions Asha goes through on her journey.
As far as scene stealers go, Harvey Guillén and Alan Tudyk both capture attention as Gabo and Valentino. Going into Wish based on previews, Valentino seemed like a sure win for Tudyk, who finally gets to speak in one of his many animal roles for Disney. Taking a lower pitch for the baby goat, the choice to go this route pays off. As for Guillén’s Gabo, the grump sidekick to Asha is unexpectedly surprising in how easily the character takes attention away. From his line delivery to the sheer grumpy gus face the character embodies throughout, you can’t help being eager to see what comes out of Gabo’s mouth next.
The contemporary spin on the music, giving an almost pop-like feel to the soundtrack, is delivered by composer Julia Michaels. As her first foray into creating a feature film soundtrack, there is potential and room for growth. You can see where the Disney influence comes in, with songs like “Kingdom of Rosas” and “Knowing What I Know Now,” which are also closest sounding to what you’d find from a Broadway musical.
Unfortunately, in terms of the lyricism and beats, there is a lack of balance to the soundtrack. Some songs resonate stronger than others, with some fading into the background. “Your Wish” and “At All Costs” vocally might be the best songs of the bunch, making the best use of DeBose’s and Pine’s vocal range but also providing us with the most insight into how our characters think in Wish. With more experience, Michaels has the potential to deliver something truly great and memorable like Disney composers of the past. But overall, the songs in Wish mostly struggle to stand out despite catchy beats.
This leads ultimately to the story. While Wish itself is an enjoyable film from beginning to end, the story itself could have benefited from further filling in the details, particularly in the latter half of the film. After Asha becomes the target of Magnifico’s ire, it’s like the story is barreling towards reaching its climax. In the process, the connective tissue needed to segue the audience from point A to point B to point C gets left behind, and we’re left scrambling to try to catch up.
Does the story fail to deliver based on this? No, but Wish could have been stronger upon delivery and impact had there been more built in to create a more filling venture. Instead, considering all elements of Wish and the areas that felt neglected in the process, I wonder whether nostalgia plays a hand in this weaker film.
The influence of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ history is present across every aspect of Wish. From background additions to character cameos to clothing decisions, you can feel how much the team loves Disney. But with so much emphasis placed on celebrating Disney in Wish, it distracts more than delivers that celebratory feeling. Thus, creating an imbalanced film.
The message of Wish is clear. If we want to achieve our dreams, we must take the reins and go full steam ahead. It’s okay to look back and refer to the past in the process but try not to lose sight of where you need to go as you prepare for the future. As Walt Disney Animation Studios prepares to tackle its next 100-year journey, finding a balance between honoring the past while delivering strong visual storytelling will be essential.
Overall, Wish is an enjoyable film. It has a message that we all should and can get behind in being the masters of our own destiny, and an inspiring heroine that will usher in the next generation of Disney fans. But, when weighed against past films, it is not the strongest film Disney has delivered.
WISH REVIEW SCORE: 7 OUT OF 10
Wish is rated PG for thematic elements and mild action. The Walt Disney Animation Studios release opens in theaters on Wednesday, November 22.
Sarah Musnicky is a freelance writer and self-described workaholic. She loves fantasy and sci fi and will admit having dual loyalties between Star Trek and Star Wars as well as Marvel and DC. When she’s not being socially awkward, she is in a corner obsessing over dragons, cute things, and a need to master all languages on the planet. She would like to be a professional blanket burrito when she reaches the peak of maturation.