Disney Animation Studios has made a name of making magic for the screen. For 100 years, it has commanded the animation world through cinema, TV and music of making dreams come true. With a signature song titled “When You Wish Upon a Star”, it only makes sense that a film celebrating its centennial is about a star and making wishes coming true.
Wish is set in a fictional island in the Mediterranean Sea, which houses the kingdom of Rosas. A young girl, Asha (Ariana DeBose), inadvertently wishes upon a star that comes down from the sky. However, the star captures the attention of Magnifico (Chris Pine), the king of Rosas and a sorcerer with the ability to grant wishes, who sees the star as a threat to the kingdom and aims to capture it for himself.
At first glance, Wish has the trademarks of a typical Disney film. Elements such as a book opening detailing the roots of the faraway kingdom, as well as forest villages and a strong-willed heroine, the film unsurprisingly sets itself up as a fairy tale. This feels like a double-edged sword – after the empowering heroine-films of Encanto, Raya and the Last Dragon and Moana, the idea of Disney reverting back to the world of fairy tales feels like a weary return to a tried-and-tested formula. Going back to this brings a familiarity that entertains certain cliches that feel worn out after 61 animated Disney films such as the smarmy antagonist, plot twists that kickstart the film’s final act, and a charming and comedic animal sidekick (following Tangled‘s Pascal, Raya‘s Tuk Tut, and Frozen‘s Sven) in the shape of the eloquent goat Valentino (Alan Tudyk). The combination of these elements screams a lack of originality – an ironic turn, considering it being an original story.
There is also frustrating naivety throughout Wish. In a land that believes in the granting of wishes, it is hard to understand why people give them freely to Magnifico. When the audience sees that the king’s possessiveness of their wishes makes them reliant on him, he has total control of Rosas and is able to ban the use of magic (except for, naturally, him). The film is quick to establish this charismatic ruler’s dark side, which – again, unsurprisingly – is more apparent as the film goes on, yet everyone is quick to believe every word he says. This is even more frustrating when his word alone is enough to make Asha an “enemy of Rosas”, creating an overly simplistic ploy to clearly define the heroine and baddie of Wish.
But in the eyes of Disney fans, Wish embodies everything makes Disney great. Julia Michaels’ vibrant songs and the direction by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn provide the backbone of this visual celebration of the studio. The over 100 callbacks littered throughout the film offer a series of nostalgic throwbacks to touch the heart of every fan while a blend of computer and hand-drawn animation highlights Disney’s mastery of both filmmaking styles.
As for its characters, they also feel quintessential Disney. From the compassionate Asha and the power-hungry Magnifico to Asha’s quietly spoken grandfather Sabino (Victor Garber), they offer relatable characters that not only resonate with past Disney films but capitalise on the cast’s strong vocal talents, especially those of Academy Award-winner DeBose and Pine, both of whom relish their roles with gusto. The range of characters also allows screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore to scatter additional callbacks to reinforce the film’s sense of nostalgia while adding a joke or two.
Overall, Wish feels like a throwback to classic Disney that may divide or appeal to fans, young or old. Nonetheless, its effortless charm and beauty drive this touching ode to the animation studios – long may it live for another 100 years.
Wish is out in UK cinemas on Friday 24 November.
Director: Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn; Allison Moore, Jennifer Lee (screenwriters)
Stars: Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Victor Garber, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral,
Runtime: 92 minutes