A dream is a wish the heart makes, and with Walt Disney Animation Studios’ rapidly-approaching 100th Anniversary, it was time to dream big when it came to the studio’s next animated feature. After Vital Thrills took part in a special presentation surrounding the upcoming release of Wish, we can tell you that the team is reaching for the stars to pull out all the stops to remind audiences why Walt Disney Animation Studios is the one stop shop for dreams and magical adventures.
For Wish, we see the return of some familiar creative faces. Disney Animation’s Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee, who is best known for writing and directing Frozen and Frozen 2, is back in the writer’s seat again for Wish, and also serves as executive producer on the project.
Back in the co-director’s seat from the Frozen team is longtime Disney collaborator, Chris Buck. Joining him as co-director is Fawn Veerasunthorn, who has previously worked on Raya and the Last Dragon among other Disney projects. All three collaborated on the story together.
Inspired by the concept of wishing on a star, a reoccurring theme in Disney Animation films, the team had their work cut out in paying tribute to Disney’s roots while also making something original and bold to highlight where the studio is at now, and how the future of the studio shines bright. Visually, this meant tapping into some classic Disney films like Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, and Snow White and finding ways to replicate that watercolor visual flair in today’s animation styles.
Production designer Lisa Keane pointed out that technology has advanced to the point where they could finally create the look they were aiming for. “We’ve long had the ability to do watercolor backgrounds, but we couldn’t quite achieve the same look on the character[s],” she shared. “We are now able to marry all those ideas in CG because of the tools that have been developed. It was exciting to watch it all come together.”
It was just as exciting to watch the scenes play out for us onscreen in person. This special presentation served as our introduction to the world of Wish. From the characters to the songs to the mighty kingdom of Rosas, this watercolor flow was present throughout.
A place where wishes are granted to a special select few, the fictional kingdom of Rosas is the backdrop for Wish. Ruled by King Magnifico (Chris Pine), the kingdom’s residents meet in a monthly ritual to see which lucky person will get their wish granted. Located roughly in the Iberian Peninsula, people come far and wide with the promise of a wish granted. Inspired by the regions in the area, the team pulled loosely from the region’s culture to develop the visual palette and flavor of Rosas.
“We wanted to create Rosas as a destination, a place people go to,” Veerasunthorn said. “In the Mediterranean Sea [near the Iberian Peninsula], that’s where all the cultures converged, historically.” By working with a culture consultant, the team worked hard to capture that essence within Rosas.
Set in the medieval time period, Lee explained that that was a time when cultures were coming from all around the world to destinations like Rosa. “Knowing Magnifico built this kingdom not knowing if they’d come, and people because they believed in his vision, it gave us an opportunity to connect people from all around the world.”
The idea of a place where wishes can actually come true sounds, well, too good to be true. And that is the crux of the conflict within Wish. As was revealed during the presentation, the guarantee of one’s wish being granted is a tricky thing, especially when our heroine Asha (Ariana DeBose) discovers how much power and influence King Magnifico has over whose wish gets granted.
At 17, Asha is just starting out with hope in her eyes. Oscillating between various emotions, it’s easy to put ourselves in her shoes. Hoping to become Magnifico’s apprentice, she soon realizes what lies behind the curtain and we see the clash of personalities between the two. And it is through DeBose’s performance and how it influenced the animation that we’re able to transport ourselves into Asha’s worldview.
When discussing Asha, Lee shared that Asha is in a position of having her dreams challenged for the first time, and being asked to step up to a level that she has yet to reach before. Through DeBose’s performance, the team were accurately able to display that onscreen.
“Ariana was so fantastic, to be honest and open and warm, but vulnerable about that,” Lee said.
Bringing energy to the studio, Buck explained how DeBose’s performance was studied and helped to influence Asha’s depiction on screen. “We record all of it [for] the animators, all the way down to the mouth shapes, eye shapes, anything that she’s done. She’s so expressive and she’s so much fun to work with.”
As the first face visitors see upon entering Rosas, the exuberant energy that DeBose put into Asha radiates onscreen. But just as radiant and equally joyful is the character that everyone will fall in love with (and will likely want to squeeze out of cuteness). The character in question? Star.
With a heart-shaped face and body shaped like its name, Star is delightfully adorable, and is sure to become an instant fan-favorite. While Star arrives in Asha’S life with a dazzling brilliance, the meaning it carries is much more than just a simple cute entity. In the end, all things link back to Walt Disney.
“Star represents the thing that was critical to Walt, that you need hope. You need possibility. [It] doesn’t hurt to have some wonder. Don’t forget some joy. [These are] all the things that we grab onto that keep us going,” shared Lee. “It helped us in building Star. Star always reminds you to keep going… the emotional story of what Walt cared about [is] built through Star.”
Another element in Wish that is just as critical as hope, at least when it comes to a Disney Animation film, is the music. And, based on an initial listen, it doesn’t disappoint. For Wish, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/musician Benjamin Rice teamed up to create seven new original songs for the film.
As a natural student of Disney, Michaels’ approach to the films reflects the historical influence of previous animated films with a pop twist. However, Michaels’ songs ended up playing into the further development of characters like King Magnifico.
In discussing the inspiration behind Magnifico, Lee shared how Michaels’ songwriting helped flesh out the character’s innate narcissism. “Julia Michaels was so instrumental because ‘This is the Thanks I Get’ as an idea is a nod to what all moms put up with in the house,” she said.
The process between writing the script and songs was collaborative between Michaels and the team. “We talked a lot about [him],” Lee elaborated. “She hooked on the idea of a narcissist. It comes [out] really simple, down to [the] character and the deliciousness and danger of that.”
Michaels’ influence on Asha and the screenplay proved monumental when she developed the song, “This Wish.” Veerasunthorn shared that “This Wish” was the first song written for the film before the team even had a script ready. “We gave her some of the brief storyline, and then she wrote that incredible song.”
“This Wish” encapsulates this turning point in Asha’s life. Her dreams are colliding with the reality that the world, and everything we thought we knew is riddled with flaws. Taking this internal struggle, Lee elaborated, Michaels was able to tap into those emotions effortlessly, and created the official anthem for Wish.
Whether you wish upon a star or place your most important wish in the hands of someone you trust, Disney Animation’s Wish goes back to form in pursuit of Walt Disney’s dream of spreading hope and magic that perhaps our dreams can come true. Through Asha’s journey this fall, we all will see a little bit of ourselves in her search for answers and hope in bringing people’s dreams, as well as her own, to life.
Walt Disney Animation Studios will release Wish exclusively in theaters on November 22, 2023. You can view the new trailer and poster below.
Sarah Musnicky is a freelance writer and self-described workaholic. She loves fantasy and sci-fi and will admit to 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.