“I WISH… FOR A DEEPER MOVIE”
In the year of 2023, The Walt Disney Company celebrates its 100th anniversary, honoring the birth of everything that studio has been known for as part of the endearing and imaginative legacy. A century of colorful tales, magic, storytelling, and great host of other properties and mediums have paved the way throughout the many years and bringing wonders that the studio has generated, garnishing a signature style and mantra “dreams do come true” within childhood. Naturally, Disney’s animated feature films play an intricate part of this celebration, enchanting viewers of all ages within their timeless stories of longing princess, young dreamers, colorful sidekick characters, wicked villains, and musical songs to help express their current situation and struggles. Beginning all the way back with 1938’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney’s Animation Studios catapulted itself into cartoon motion picture juggernaut, releasing a theatrical film every year or so and building up a reputation of being respectable endeavors that harken back to childhood entertainment. The studio even when through a “rebirth” during the 90s called “Disney’s Renaissance”, which spanned from 1989 to 1999, with some of their releases during that time period calling back to its forgotten roots and bring forth some of the most well-known and widely recognizable releases, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, Tarzan, and several others. A decade after its “renaissance”, Disney once again returned to its signature style with 2009’s The Princess and the Frog and then to be followed by Tangled in 2010. After being absent for a few years, the “house of mouse” came back to style of animated filmmaking with the release of 2013’s Frozen, which was met with universal acclaim, and then started the trend of Disney coming back to colorful identity of music and storytelling, which was followed by similar projects such as 2016’s Moana, 2019’s Frozen II, and 2021’s Encanto. Now, celebrating its 100th anniversary, Walt Disney Animation Studios and directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthron present their 62nd movie release titled Wish. Does this animated feature resonate with the studio’s classic nuances of its signature identity or is it a shallow attempt that only skims the surface what Disney has been known for?
Once Upon a time…. Magnifico (Chris Pine), a man who dabble in the magical arts, was concerned about the state of wishes and the fulfillment of such lofty dreams, electing to build his own kingdom, Rosas, claiming the royal title of “king”, with the aid of his wife, Amaya (Angelique Cabral) as queen, while sharpening his skills as a sorcerer. Those who choose to live in Rosas surrender their wishes at the turning age of adulthood, with Magnifico carrying the weight of these unfulfilled dreams, granting a single wish for the people every year. Asha (Ariana DeBose) is a spunky teenager eager to see her 100-year-old grandfather’s wish be granted while interviewing for apprenticeship position to work under Magnifico himself, learning more about his acute personality and desires for the all the wishes of Rosas. Dejected from the appointment, Asha turns to the sky (and the stars) for comfort, connecting with Star, a golden star-shaped, luminescent being offering support, and utilizing its magical powers, including the ability of speech for her pet goat, Valentino (Alan Tudyk). Fearing of new threat that could oppose him and his supremacy over the kingdom’s wishes, Magnifico turns to forbidden dark magic and giving more power than he ever dreamed, while Asha, recognizing the danger, teams up with her friends to save Rosas and free the wishes of its people from their sorcerer-king’s iron grip.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated in a lot of my other reviews for Disney movies, I’ve always been a big fan of Disney. From early childhood to current adulthood, Disney (in all of its various shapes and forms) has played a part in my life of storytelling from its cartoon tv series shows, amusement theme parks, and just overall mantra “remembering the magic” and “dreams do come true”. Naturally, what always circles back to me is in its illustrious catalogue library of animated feature films that the studio has released over the past multiple decades since the company’s inception. Of course, I do love all the “classic” ones that the studio has become known for, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and few other ones. In truth, some of them I only remember seeing on some of Disney’s “sing-along” VHS tapes, including Oliver and Company, The Aristocrats, and Alice and Wonderland, and several others, with those ones I didn’t see until they were released sometime later when I was 10 or 11. The famous “Disney Renaissance” was indeed a rebirth of the studio’s ideals for their cartoon motion pictures, producing some of the memorable and highly praised animated movies of all-time. Naturally, I’m talking of the likes of the “big four”, which includes The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King; all of which were movies that I love the most from Disney and continue to be my personal favorites.
After that, I felt that Disney had abandoned there “signature identity” in the 2000s, especially with the rise of other films studios that were jostling for big box office results and who were looking for challenge the status quo of children’s entertainment, and this changed the studio’s mind on their feature endeavors. I’m not saying that all of their movies in 2000s era were bad (I love Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch, and Treasure Planet), but the rest felt underwhelming and subpar from the illustrious studio’s past endeavor. That being said, the reappearance of The Princess and the Frog in 2009 felt like a welcomed sight, which saw Disney embracing its identity once again. Despite what critics say about the film, I really did like the film, especially since the studio went back to its 2D animation, and Tangled was fantastic…even though it went back to 3D style of animation. Yet, I was surprised that Disney then retreated back from its signature style of animated storytelling, which (again) probably due to the rise of popularity in superhero movies, which is why the made Big Hero 6. So, it came to as a surprise (once again) that Disney embraced that very same identity once again with Frozen, which I knew was going to be a “big hit” after seeing its in theaters of which….it did and set the trend for more of its classic cartoon storytelling as seeing in Moana and Frozen II. In the end, Disney has indeed had a long and celebratory legacy of storytelling and entertainment, enchanting countless viewers of all ages from different generations in presenting a wide variety of narratives; some have stood the test of time and have endured to become timeless classics from the studio’s repertoire style and identity.
This brings me back around to talking about Wish, a 2023 animated fantasy musical film from Disney and their 62nd animated feature film. After critical and financial failings of 2022’s Strange World and its failure to connect with moviegoers, Disney desperately needed a win to reignite the passion and integrity that the animated studio was known for. Their 2023 film was planned to reintroduce those particular aspects (as well as celebrates the company’s centennial milestone), with the announcement being that feature would be titled Wish and incorporate a lot of the signature styles of storytelling, characters, and music that the company was known for. As I mentioned, Disney has been returning to that particular style of animation and identify, with special interest found in Frozen, which clearly embraced all the ideals that Disney was known for in their animated feature films. Such a celebration deserves a homage to its past and, given its century milestone celebration, Disney wanted to fully embrace that ideology to its endearing legacy of what it stands for in its “big release” during such a celebratory year. I think I first heard about this movie back in 2022 when it was announced and the few snippets and tidbits that were posted online (concept artwork and casting announcements) got me interested. The film’s movie trailers (of course) got me more interested in the upcoming animated feature, which showcased a more “traditional” Disney cartoon adventure, which is something that I would welcome. So, all in all, I was very much interested to see the movie when it was expected to come out in late 2023. I did get a chance to see Wish during its opening weekend (Thanksgiving 2023 weekend in the US), but, due to my work schedule (working holidays season at retail), I had to wait a few weeks after that to get my review done. Now, with the holiday season over, I am ready to share my thoughts on this latest Disney animated motion picture. And what did I think of it? Well, it was okay-ish, but nothing grand. While Wish does pay tribute to the Disney legacy through its storytelling and other animated nuances, the film never goes beyond the surface level of depths, lacking the well-roundness and wholesome feeling that many others in its illustrious catalogue films were able to produce. Don’t get me wrong…. it’s a Disney movie through and through, but there could’ve been so much to this animated tale than what was presented.
Wish is directed by Chris Buck, whose previous directorial works include such Frozen, Frozen II, and Tarzan, and Fawn Veerasunthron, whose previous works includes as story artist for Zootopia, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Raya and the Last Dragon. Given their backgrounds in both animated endeavors as well as working on several Disney feature film cartoons, the collaborations of Buck / Veerasunthron seems like a suitable choice to helm such project like this, with the directors approaching the film with a sense of respect from Disney and the legacy that they have cured throughout these many years. With that in mind, Wish is presented to honor the studio’s namesake by celebrating the animated films of the past as Buck / Veerasunthron shapes their film as a framework of classic cartoon motion pictures that many have come to love. In essence, the movie is presented as a more “traditional” Disney animated film, brings the story to its familiar roots of a female protagonist, talking animal sidekick characters, a villainous bad guy, and a sprinkling of cute / lyrical musical songs that are scattered. While this can be seeing as a “double edge” sword (more on that below), the project reinforces those ideas as Buck / Veerasunthron sort of “double down” on them and makes Wish have that feeling of an old throwback installment from Disney that time almost forgot. Given a lot of Disney’s modernizations of forward-thinking, the film does certainly have a few of those motifs, but only minor ones, with Wish feeling like a classic Disney movie that had been locked in their vault for quite some time…. just tweaked a bit here and there. This results in an animated motion picture that is light on its toes, clear in what it wants to say / be, and easy to digest for all generations to follow.
Another great and positive reinforcement that Wish does is found within its thematic and inspiring message it tells in its story. While a bit heavy-handed due to the movie’s plot, the film is chock-full of lessons to be learned and motivations to help viewers do great things within their lives because of their hopes and dreams. Yes, this can be a bit “preachy” at times (even for a kid’s movie), but the feature does utilize Disney’s mantra of “dreams do come true” and the importance of everyone having their own personal hopes and desires to make their wish come to fruition. Naturally, this symbolism in its message is indeed a universal one that anyone (regardless of age, race, sex, or cultural) could understand and relate to as well as the important understanding of not letting those who try to stifle and / or suppress a person’s dream could be detrimental…. as seeing with Magnifico’s desiring to not let most of his subject’s wishes come true. Coupled with the film’s story, animation style, and references and Wish’s themes speaks from the heart and from the studio’s everlasting stance of believing in ones wishes and dreams…. not matter what.
In addition, the film, as to be expected, is full of callbacks, references, and nods to Disney’s illustrious past of animated filmmaking delights, with the movie itself being one big homage to the studio’s history of cartoon storytelling that has become a paramount staple for the “House of Mouse”. Fans of Disney (longtime ones and relative new ones) will love all the references and inspirations found in this movie, with a plethora of cameo-like styles and influences scattered throughout. Given that Wish is a celebration of Disney’s animated films, it comes as no surprise that the feature would have all of these cannon nuances from their past, which is befitting the studio’s legacy as well as the movie itself. Thus, regardless of if one likes the project or not, there is no denying the fact that Wish is a homage to Disney’s past.
Speaking of Disney’s past, Wish’s presentation is indeed a callback to yesteryear of the studio’s animation, with the movie having a gorgeous animation style that’s harkens to the past for some memorable measure within its narrative being told. While some modernize usage of style and animation is helping to bring some of the more dynamic moments to life, but the main “bread and butter” for the film is within how it presents its usage of animation, which has a watercolor-esque influence. It’s definitely unique and something quite different from one of the major animated studios out there, who usually go the route of 3D CGI renderings and leaving the more “artistic integrity” for some of the smaller studios out there (Cartoon Saloon, Laika, Aardman Animation, etc.). Breaking the “status quo” from the big studios’ conventions, Disney’s desire to make Wish have a more different style for its animation is indeed a welcome one, which has a fluid feeling throughout its movement, yet also speaks to that “storybook” feeling that the film wants to convey with its story. Thus, the animation definitively compliments Wish’s appeal and likeability through a visual medium. Plus, it’s quite unique to see such a style of animation that is fused with certain aspects of 3D animation rendering; a combination that works terrifically throughout. So, as one can imagine, the film’s animation is quite beautiful to behold, and I do highly praise Disney for going against the norm and trying something different for its animation. Thus, I would have to thanks all the animators that worked on this project as well as the film’s art direction team and Michael Giaimo (production designer) for making Wish’s “look and feel” capture that “once upon a time” feeling without going to that fullest extent. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Dave Metzger, is pretty good and helps play a part in the movie’s narrative for some solid musical composition that invoke the tone and setting of a Disney animated feature film. All in all, a good soundtrack for this movie.
Unfortunately, Wish, despite its callbacks to the identity of what makes a Disney movie fun and enjoyable (and almost everlasting), does draw criticism within its shaping and overall execution, with the animated picture have several bumps along the way. How so? Well, for the most part, my biggest negative point about the movie is how the film doesn’t go deeper than any type of surface level façade, which renders a lot of what the movie wants to convey (story, themes, messages, songs, characters, etc.) rather moot and quite frankly forgettable. It’s not for a lack of trying that the movie tries to elevate these certain aspects, which it does, but only in a few pockets areas. This, of course, makes Wish feel a bit hollow in its substance and makes rather vanilla entry within Disney’s library of animated films. The movie is indeed made of quality, but not so much in its narrative and depth.
Speaking of narrative, I did want to see more from this movie and was hoping to see a few narrative threads take a more different path than the ones that were taken. Naturally, this comes in the form of the film’s script, which was penned by Buck and Veerasunthron as well as Jennifer Lee, Allison Moore, Carlos Lopez Estrada, and Andrew Rothschild, with the classic “too many cooks in the kitchen” coming to mine on this project’s rather weak screenplay / story. There is something that as the idea of Wish is quite compelling, but the script handling of everything feels rather clunky, missing out vital pieces of narrative that could’ve bolstered the plot and characters far better than what was presented. The story could’ve been easily filled out and expanded upon more (in almost all areas), providing a deeper context understanding that the narrative has to offer. What’s presented works, but only to a certain degree, leaving a lot to be desired within its tale. Because of this, Wish has a “rushed” feeling and, while it does the picture move at a brisk pace from one scene to the next, this does hinder the movie and creates a shallow presentation instead of enriching itself.
Next, the musical songs in the movie are a bit of a “mixed bag” for me; a sort of both good and bad in my book, which is why I am having difficulty in placing this topic in my review for it. Well, for the most part, the songs in Wish are relatively good. None of them are technically bad or anything like that, but they aren’t exactly the “memorable” hits that Disney has been quite known for throughout many of their musical releases in their animated endeavors. Of course, the film’s big highlighted song “I Wish” is probably the big standout of all of them and clearly is the main tune that the movie to convey the most, with a larger emphasis on Asha’s character plight. It’s big, grand, and rousing, which feels great and probably my favorite song in thee film. The others, however, are a bit underwhelming. Yes, they do hit all the right notes and convey some type of amusement or character understanding such as Asha’s introduction to Rosas in “Welcome to Rosas” or the talking animal singalong in “I’m a Star” or even Magnifico’s descent to villainy in “This Is The Thanks I Get?”, but none of them actually stick to a person’s memory and end up being rather forgetful. The writing of the song themselves don’t exactly have the correct flow, which leans into the movie songs being rather “meh”, which, given the fact that Wish is supposed to be a legacy endeavor for Disney, seems underwhelming to say the least.
Another a minor disappointing aspect that the movie doesn’t really go into is the actual kingdom of Rosas and the realm which Magnifico rules over. I mean the art style for the primary setting of the narrative is definitely interesting and beckons to be discovered throughout the many different areas of which are presented. Yet, there is definitely a lacking feeling in the overall exploration of Rosas throughout the movie. A fantasy-esque medieval kingdom in the Mediterranean Sea is indeed something that Disney hasn’t charted a course through before, so I was interested to see what they were going to do with it. Unfortunately, not much. There’s definitely a draw to see more of Rosas and its people, but the movie’s story never fully dives into that aspect and leaves us (the viewers) kind of wanting more than what was shown. I mean….the people, the culture, the society, the villages nearby, the ports and so on and so forth. How big is Rosas? These things aren’t fully realized in the movie and it’s just a shame that Disney doesn’t explore the far edges of map to make Rosas feel real instead of a generic fairy tale-esque setting?
The cast in Wish is pretty solid across the board, with the acting talent involved is likeable and energetic enough to bring these colorful characters to life and give the right amount of personality throughout the entire feature. Perhaps the problem for most of them is that the film’s script doesn’t give most of these characters enough depth and / or screentime, which renders most rather generical “cookie cutter” and one-dimensional. Thus, the project mostly relies on the voice talents to help elevate these characters. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Arianna DeBose, who plays the story’s protagonist role of Asha. Known for her roles in Westworld, Hamilton, and West Side Story, DeBose has certainly made a name for herself of late, appearing in more prominent roles in equally more prominent movie / TV projects. Thus, her winning the lead character role in Wish is indeed a great choice, for DeBose certainly knows how to make Asha come alive with lots of personality and exuberant energy. She definitely fits the character, with DeBose interject a sense of eager and hopeful nature into Asha and creates such a defining juxtaposition against Magnifico’s more colder and jaded positioning. Without question, DeBose is also “pitch perfect” when it comes to musical numbers that she (as Asha) participates throughout Wish. Of course, as I stated above, the song “This Wish” is crowning glory that DeBose shines through on and gives such a tremendous (and resounding) vocals in the song that easily the best. The character of Asha herself is pretty straightforward and, while I would’ve liked to seeing a bit more substance in several areas that involves her, she definitely fits the mold of a classic Disney movie. Overall, I felt that DeBose was perfect casting choice for the character of Asha, an archetype character that fits the mold of the classic “Disney Princess” role and persona, yet still speaks to a more modern audience that makes her welcoming, inviting, and easily to root for from beginning to end.
If DeBose’s Asha is the main protagonist in the film, then the role of Magnifico, the magical-wielding king of Rosas, is given the dutiful role of being the story’s antagonist role and who is voiced by actor Chris Prine. The character of Magnifico starts out as an interesting one, who is benevolent ruler and who has the power to grant people’s wishes, yet hesitant to grant everyone’s wish due to a fear of losing control of his title in fear of his past. That’s great and complex character, with the script making him have more reasoning behind what he does. Sadly, that’s only for the beginning of the movie, with the character of Magnifico turning to dark magic to maintain his power and stomp out Asha’s plan, and (by extension) gets lost within his own madness. This “twist” is good…but only at first, with the movie’s thinly sketching out his character after that and makes a good and interesting one (initially) become such flat and one-dimensional. Such motives and setups aren’t quite define enough to make such a translation and certain aspects of background are left questionable, which leaves a lot to be desired for such a generic baddie. Of course, Pine, who is known for his roles in Star Trek, Wonder Woman, and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, is having a blast playing a Disney villain, relishing (and chewing) through his dialogue lines with glee and joy, especially when Magnifico falls deeper and deeper into his evil ways. Thus, it all goes hand-in-hand with the character as Pine was perfectly casted to play such a role, but Magnifico himself is poorly written.
Looking beyond protagonist and antagonist, Wish offers an amusing take on the animal side-kick character in the form of Valentino, Asha’s goat who gains the ability to talk in the movie, and who is voiced by veteran voice actor Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Frozen). Valentino is given plenty of character and amusement throughout, with Tudyk lending his voice with such energy and fun, which makes the character endearing from onset to conclusion. It’s a classic sidekick animal part from the Disney formula, which (again) is perfectly fine for this movie. Behind Valentino, the character of Star, a mystical, sentient star-like shaped being that makes wishes come true, steals the spotlight every now and again. The character itself is a non-verbal character, so there is no spoken dialogue given Star, but the character has plenty of personality and have plenty of sight gags throughout Wish’s runtime. Star is a bit of a “McGuffin” for the movie, but that’s fine by me and (again) harkens back to Disney’s past legacy of characters and tropes.
Sadly, beyond those characters, the remaining players, including actress Angelique Cabral (Life in Pieces and Friends with Benefits) as King Magnifico’s wife Queen Amaya of Rosas, actress Natasha Rothwell (Insecure and Wonka) as Asha’s mother Sakina, actor Victor Garber (Alias and Titanic) as Asha’s century old grandfather Sabino, actress Jennifer Kumiyama (The Sessions and Forever Beautiful) as the royal baker / Asha’s disabled best friend Dahlia, actor Harvey Guillen (Blue Beetle and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish) as Asha’s cynical friend Hal, actress Niko Vargas (Craig on thee Creek and Monkey Wrench) as Asha’s joyful friend Hal, actor Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Futures Past and American Horror Story) as Asha’s big hearted friend Simon, actor Ramy Youssef (Ramy and Mr. Robot) as Asha’s allergic friend Safi, actor Jon Rudnitsky (Home Again and Saturday Night Live) as Asha’s wiggly-eared friend Dario, and actress Della Saba (Ralph Breaks the Internet and Physical) as Asha’s shy friend Bazeema, are relatively supporting players in the film and are woefully underutilized throughout most of the feature’s story. Of course, the acting talent that provides these characters vocals are solid across the board, but, as for the characters themselves, they are pretty much undercooked for much of the feature, which is quite a shame. They are there and do play a part in the story in a few crucial moments, but there is definitely more that could’ve been done with several characters, including Queen Amaya, Sakina, Simon, as the script drops hint at something more to their character’s personas, but are quickly swept away and are merely there for plot progression points.
To uncover the truth and finding purpose in making her wish, Asha embarks upon a journey to save the kingdom of Rosas and the peoples’ dreams from its ruler in the movie Wish. Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthron’s latest’s film is a celebration of what Disney stands for, presenting a whimsical fairy tale-esque narrative that combines their signature style of characters, music, and storytelling into an animated motion picture. That being said, the movie has both its hits and misses within its undertaking as the film doesn’t quite having enough “substance” within its narrative and being shallow within its characters and music, yet still has enough likeability for its gorgeous animation, solid voice talents, and harkening back to the motifs and callbacks to Disney’s past. Personally, I thought that this movie was good, but not great. Yes, I love the ideas it was trying to mold with this animated endeavor and some parts do actually work and I cannot speak highly of the film’s animation style, but there is something that doesn’t “click” the right way, for most of the production seems only “surface level”, leaving a lot to be desired within the film’s story. On the plus side, the style of animation was fantastic, and the voice talents involved were great, especially DeBose and Pine. I just wish that the movie could’ve been so much more than what was presented. If one would compare Wish to Frozen and to say which one, did it better….I would personally say that Frozen is the better of the two, encapsulating a more wholesome story (all the way around). Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a favorable “rent it” as it should be seeing for longtime fans of Disney’s animated feature films as well as casual moviegoers out there, but doesn’t “demand” much for repeat viewing experience or even a “must see” type of presentation. In the end, while Disney’s “100 years of magic” is quite a milestone to reach with the hopes many more years to come from the powerhouse studio, Wish stands as a valiant effort from the “House of Mouse” in their joyful collective style of style and identity, yet still falls a bit short in a motion picture that “wishes” to be something more than just a mediocre project.
3.5 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: November 22nd, 2023
Reviewed On: January 3rd, 2024
Wish is 95 minutes long and is rated PG for thematic elements and mild action