Disney has been a name closely associated with animation and fantasy for a hundred years. Their iconic castle and signature conjures up the whimsy of Snow White, Cinderella, and so on. To celebrate their centennial, it makes sense that they’d want to return to a classic princess story with magic included. While Wish certainly has that motif, it also arrives as a bloated nostalgic dump of all things Disney. If Disney’s recent Once Upon A Studio short film was a heartfelt ode to the studio’s legacy, Wish plays more like a corporate commercial.
A Land of Wishes
There was undoubtedly a good idea behind the film, but it needs a few more drafts. Set on a Mediterranean island, the magical Kingdom of Rosas is ruled by the sorcerer King Magnifico (Chris Pine). Despite his ego, the king offers his citizens to live without fear of poverty, starvation, or housing. What he asks for as payment is that the ultimate dreams of the populace be put on hold. He can remove your ultimate wish, wipe it from your memory, and return it to you later when he deems it worthy to be granted with his magic.
All of the red flags in this scenario do not seem apparent to the young adult Asha (Ariana DeBose). She’s grown up only knowing this life and believes it to be a solid system of government. Only when she gets closer to the king does she realize the wishes are being hoarded, which she probably should’ve suspected when her hundred-year-old grandpa has yet to have his wish come true. She should likely reveal the truth and restore the people’s wishes, but she will need magical help.
The Usual Disney Suspects
A host of Disney retread elements fuels Asha’s war against Magnifico. She wishes upon a star, and a cute mascot descends to spew out some magic dust and beef up the adorable numbers. That magic leads to Asha’s pet goat, Valentino (Alan Tudyk), being able to talk with some silly dialogue. The magic spills over into the rest of the forest, where the animals all engage in a musical number with a cameo by Bambi.
The rest of the film proceeds like a timed game of seeing how long it takes the audience to catch all the references. For example, do Asha’s seven co-workers look familiar compared to other Disney characters? If you don’t get this Snow White wink in the second act, it’ll be spelled out for you in the third. The same goes for the presence of a dude called Peter who wants to fly and Magnifico’s obsession with mirrors on walls that might tell him who is the most handsome of them all.
It’s impossible to look at this film and not compare it to Disney’s past films, especially the studio’s recent animated films, considering the pedigree of the talents from Frozen. While films like Frozen and Moana had songs that were impossible to get out of the ears, Wish has songs that struggle to find that same path into the mind. It’s not that the songs present are not composed well, but they’re not in the same ballpark as Disney’s better films, which does not bode well for a film intended to be a centennial celebration. Songs like “This Is the Thanks I Get” sung by the villain, and “This Wish” by the hero make for decent sequences, even if their lyrics are not as catchy.
Less impressive was the choice of animation style. In what looks like an attempt to recognize 2D animation while still choosing the path of commercially viable CGI, there’s this compromise in how the film is styled. The result is a more bland style with its attempts to replicate the storybook effect. Something about the simplistic landscapes posed against the typical big-eyed Disney designs feels off. It’s enough to make one long for Disney to go for that traditional 2D medium rather than make this surreal attempt to slather it on top of computer animation. Considering the studio has proven they can do this well with Once Upon a Studio, it’s weirdly baffling how this film appears by comparison.
A Disney Mash
The film attempts to frame itself like an Easter egg hunt of a movie that tries to cleverly sneak in its many references while pushing out a slew of identical tropes. This constant winking that only progresses with each act nearly robs the film of all its charm. The bulky assortment of reminders that Disney made this movie and that they have other titles in their vast library gives the flavor of a commercial. To an even worse extent, the desire to telegraph these aspects in a disguised method gives off the impression of a Disney duplicator more than a Disney film.
All of this amounts to a film that feels like a safe bet for Disney animation if it focuses strictly on what one expects from the studio. But is that an intelligent path? There’s a saying that good movies give fans what they want, while great films give fans what they never knew they wanted. While some millennials and boomers may be thirsty to relive their childhoods and watch another magical kingdom Disney princess movie unfold, they may also be dismayed by how artificial it all appears.
Wish is a Disney film with many Disney stuff but rarely features any of that Disney magic. It’s a more condensed version of the studio’s brand, presented with a timely yet odd plot about the commodification of passions. It’s odd because Disney has already been trying to take all the dreams of its previous animated properties and sell them back to their audience in a nostalgic manner for effortless allure. They continue that practice with Wish, but in a deceptive way where you’re lured in with an original narrative and left with an ending that advertises their catalog of characters, reminding the audience of far better films Disney has made before.
Wish was released in theaters on November 22, 2023!
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