Review: Wish

Disney’s 100 year celebration is a lukewarm affair. It is fine.

Asha is a young girl living in the kingdom of Rosas, which is ruled by a sorcerer-king, and the king has the confidence of his people by storing and protecting their greatest wishes. But Asha is soon to discover that the king isn’t all he claims to be.

The song “When You Wish Upon a Star” was written originally for the 1940’s Disney film Pinocchio, and since then has become synonymous with Disney’s opening logo for most of their movies. 2023’s Wish is the studio’s celebration and recognition of not just this little bit of trivia, but also for 100 years of entertainment. The film even opens with a montage of Disney, including stirring audio clips from Walt Disney himself.

It is a shame then, that 2023 has been a total disaster for the studio, and Wish has not done enough to turn the tide.

Starring Ariana DeBose (Hamilton and the West Side Story remake) as Asha, and Chris Pine (Dungeons & Dragons) as King Magnifico, Wish is a bit of a… stunted experience. For being Disney’s blow-out 100th year animated movie, you would expect a little bit more than this. It does try to have quiet nods to Disney’s history, which is more welcome than deliberate cameos, such as the opening narration being an old storybook. There are some other nods, such as to Snow White, Cinderella, Robin Hood, Bambi, and Peter Pan. Some of these are more overt than others, but none of them are critical to the storytelling.

But even without the trailer, you would be hard pressed to not know that King Magnifico was actually the antagonist. It is played like some big betrayal; his people love him, he has a loyal and kind wife who supports him… But the premise: He stores people’s greatest wishes to “protect” them from the wish never coming true? That… makes precious little sense. Add to it that the wish-taking turns the people into “boring” people; their youthful exuberance is gone. Why have they agreed to this? How does this work? For what is at least two decades of rule?

This 2D-but-actually-3D style isn’t doing it for me…

And Magnifico immediately defangs his own agenda within the first ten minutes. He seems to be requesting for an apprentice, although he doesn’t appear to need one, and has had multiple interviews with citizens that have all failed. When Asha is summoned, he tells her how “some wishes will never be granted” and acts extremely suspiciously/tyrannically to her. This tips our hero off that something is wrong.
Now… if Magnifico has run this kingdom for decades, and has had several apprentice interviews in the past… why does he run his mouth now? Well, so the film can happen and so Asha becomes the protagonist.

But the story hinges so much on Magnifico’s tyranny that for this to be the story’s “turning point” it feels rather… lame? For being Disney’s 100th year celebration, he is a joke of a villain. Frozen’s villain was much more subtle, Tangled’s villain was much more emotionally resonant. Even Maleficent in the original Sleeping Beauty, while cartoonishly evil, was clearly that from the outset.

Characters are fine. Asha is the regular girl protagonist we’ve seen in the last several Disney films, but all the supporting (human) characters are… completely forgettable.

This runs into the animation style as well, which clearly wants to evoke the original hand-drawn art styles of old, but just doing it cheaply. Unfortunately, at times it does look exactly like that: cheap. Backgrounds are deliberately flat, characters can look like actors in front of cardboard sets. Animation in motion doesn’t always look smooth, either, horses dashing around can look like they are stuttering. For the most profitable animation studio in the world… you want more than this.

Definitely not evil.

It isn’t all bad, though these comments are quite damning. There are a couple of banger songs “I’m a star” and “This is the thanks I get?!”, although there are some duds as well, which feel laden with exposition more than usual.
The character of Star, obviously, being a silent sidekick in a kids movie, completely steals the show and should probably have been introduced a lot earlier. They are a delightful little ball of energy, literally, and seems completely invested in acting, while everyone else is indecisive by comparison. Valentino the goat (voiced by Alan Tudyk) is fine, a bit one note and doesn’t really do anything, but you need to check “animal companion” off the list of tropes.

It is a harmless movie, it can entertain but it isn’t going to grab you emotionally like a lot of Disney’s movies (even recent ones) which definitely shouldn’t be the case for their celebratory feature! It doesn’t have Tangled’s charm, or Frozen’s instant appeal, or Encantos design and visual flair. It just sort of… is.

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