'Wish' review: Disney’s newest adventure doesn't have the magic
Courtesy of Disney
Walt Disney Studios is turning 100 years old in 2023 and though it was once known, in its early days, as the “Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio,” it has now become a multi-billion dollar behemoth that has its hands involved with tv, sports, theme parks, cruises, and merchandising. But the studio has always remained grounded in animation, having released several dozen animated features since 1937’s groundbreaking “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (not counting Pixar) and has become the de-facto choice for families who now can’t even fathom not subscribing to Disney+. Most of those films work because they usually follow a very simple pattern: have a likable hero (or heroine) and make sure they have a cute sidekick, some catchy songs, and a good villain to battle.
Disney’s newest feature, “Wish,” the sort of half-baked centennial celebration that’s only good for selling plushies at Christmas time, has all of the above components and yet none of the charm or enchantment necessary to cement itself as the newest “Frozen” (which it desperately wants to be). It’s a self-referential fable centered around the “wishing star” that characters from other Disney adventures have called upon in times of need. The film, directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, is filled with enough Easter eggs and callbacks to satisfy the diehard Disney fanbase, but all that does is embed the movie in the past without looking toward the future. In fact, you’ll probably sit there wondering why you aren’t at home watching the movies they are referencing instead.
Alas, from its conception, you can sense this was a movie meant to celebrate Disney rather than tell a good, engaging story as “Wish,” is inspired by the timeless song “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the soothing ballad first sung in 1940’s “Pinocchio” by mister Jiminy Cricket. It’s wild we are living in a time when a studio is now trying to create IP from a song, but I guess we had to get here eventually. The movie follows new Disney royalty Asha (voiced by Oscar winner Ariana DeBose) who resides in the magical kingdom of Rosas, a colorful little place overseen by Magnifico (Chris Pine). Rosas is unique in that every resident makes a wish when they turn 18 (a wish that is forgotten instantly) and gives it to Magnifico for safe keeping and, every once in a while, he’ll decide to grant one if it suits the kingdom.
Of course, Magnifico doesn’t have the best intentions of his subjects at heart (who would have thought?) and is more of a dictator than objective ruler. Asha figures out he’ll never grant the majority of the wishes within his possession, and the people who asked for them don’t even know what they’re missing. Because in “Wish” the character’s aren’t defined by any personality traits, rather, everything they do is in service of one day hoping their wish is granted.
This sends Asha on a journey to salvage everyone’s hopes and dreams and, in classic Disney fashion, leads to a new song (“This Wish”) and, as she’s singing, something comes falling out of the sky. A tiny, cuddly creature named, uh, Star (several people contributed to the screenplay and that was the best we could do?). Alongside this bright new character and her now talking animal sidekick Valentino (Alan Tudyk), Asha sets out to free everyone’s wishes and give them a new sense of purpose.
For all this magic and wonder sprinkled into the story, the final product doesn’t have much. It makes you wonder if this was made by Disney at all? If you think of their biggest hits, “Frozen,” “Moana,” or even “Encanto,” they had an identity that served the story and lended itself to gorgeous scenery and breathtaking animation. In “Wish,” everything is generic and lacks depth or focus. Asha is just a coagulation of every Disney princess from the last 100 years-big eyes and a great voice-and the songs are nowhere near the ear worm levels of “Let It Go,” “You’re Welcome,” or “We Don’t Talk about Bruno.” Even the sidekick Valentino, who is admittedly adorable, doesn’t serve a real purpose beyond the occasional one liner. At least Olaf had a song!
It makes for a disappointing bookend on what was already a tough year for the studio. It’s ironic a good chunk of the studio’s slate, especially in its 100th year, have been flops as it serves as a reminder that you need to put care and effort into the creative process rather than regurgitate the same plot points over and over for the sake of making a quick buck. Hopefully it won’t take another 100 years for them to course correct and realize this studio was built on quality, not quantity.
WISH is now playing in theaters.