Celebrating its 100th year, Disney Animation releases its latest animated film, Wish, as a way to celebrate the dreams that Disney has often inspired. Sadly, those dreams are shattered as Wish enters the Disney lexicon as one of their most tepid and uninspired efforts.
Maybe it’s because it’s trying to remind us of all of the Disney classics we know and love, but the earnest and mild storytelling of Wish just makes us want to go back to watch those instead. What’s so odd about this original story is that it’s a bit nonsensical and strangely cruel.
The story, set up in a prologue, tells of a man who loses everything he has and then isolates himself on an island in the Mediterranean and teaches himself magic. He ends up becoming a powerful magician and ruling a kingdom of his own making. There, Chris Pine’s King Magnifico (a name so lazy it borders on farce) hopes to use his powers to protect people’s wishes and dreams and then grant them. As a result, people from around the globe come to live there in peace while the magician gathers and protects their dearest hopes.
So, on someone’s 18th birthday, they give up their deepest wish to the King for safekeeping, and by doing so, they forget their wish so as not to deal with the pain of never having it realized. But… wouldn’t this mean they wouldn’t even be able to work toward their dream or wish because they don’t remember it? Isn’t that a big part of someone’s personality? Their passion? It feels like a germ of an idea that really needed more fleshing out. And in that way, it feels cruel to the kingdom’s people – and kind of sad.
Anyway, as his kingdom gets larger, Magnifico’s seemingly benevolent nature masks a much darker persona. You see, he only grants one wish a year, and that wish has to benefit him somehow, so he’s picking and choosing according to his desires. When the spunky teenager Asha (Ariana DeBose) discovers this about him, she wishes on a star for help to make things right in the kingdom. Wackiness ensues, and we end up with a talking goat named Valentino (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and a rascally star that floats down to earth to try and help Asha reveal the King’s true nature and release everyone’s wishes.
And that’s it, which is odd when six writers are credited.
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There are some pleasing songs by songwriters Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice, but nothing that will have you humming the tunes as you walk out of the theater. The film’s humor isn’t all that amusing or clever, and the nods to other Disney films just prove distracting.
DeBose does offer a feisty and relatable heroine here (with the pipes to match), and Pine does his best to infect Magnifico with a flamboyant, playful edge. But it’s not enough to save a film with no memorable sequences or anything profound to say.
The animation (a combination of CGI and hand-drawn styles) showcases the past and present in a fresh way creating some truly stunning images. But a lack of set-pieces leaves this feeling like an episode of a Disney Channel television series. “This week on Wish, Asha confronts King Magnifico about his ulterior motives!” Aside from the castle and a forest, there really aren’t that many interesting places for Asha to guide us through.
This is all genuinely disappointing since Disney has had such a resurgence with Tangled, Frozen, and Encanto. Sure, they’ve stumbled here and there, but I think we were all hoping for truly catchy tunes and a film full of wonder and imagination – something Disney oozes out of its magical pores.
But as directors Chris Buck (Frozen, Surfs Up) and Fawn Veerasunthorn try to remind us of their past, they forget to forge ahead into the future. Here’s hoping the next century of Disney Animation will offer a fresh new path and another 100 years of inspiration and dreams.