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Wish Review: Disney Animation’s Tribute Album Of A Movie Casts Charming, Nostalgic Sorcery

The House of Mouse is celebrating its biggest birthday yet this fall, having just turned 100 years old, and the studio is paying the magic forward with the release of Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn’s Wish. While it’s no secret that Walt Disney Studios has been trying to go back to its roots as of late between live-action remakes of favorites like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, or hit animated musicals like Encanto and the Frozen films, this movie is perhaps the biggest amalgamation of honoring classic Disney cheer so far. From gorgeous watercolor-like settings, to adorable talking animals, to earworm pop songs, Wish goes to the Disney mainstays. 

Wish

King Magnifico in Wish

(Image credit: Disney Animation )

Release Date: November 22, 2023
Directed By: Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn
Written By: Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore
Starring: Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Kumiyama, Harvey Guillén, Evan Peters, Ramy Youssef, Jon Rudnitsky and Della Saba
Rating: PG for thematic elements and mild action
Runtime: 93 minutes

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ chief creative officer Jennifer Lee, who famously wrote Frozen, penned this new movie after ruminating on the wishing star’s huge hold on beloved titles like Pinocchio and Peter Pan. While many classic Disney tales are adaptations of already-known fairy tales, Wish is an original story that transforms a giant ball of gas into a loveable pudgy yellow star to bring enchantment and hope to its hero, Asha (voiced by West Side Story Oscar winner Ariana DeBose).  

Asha lives in the fictional Kingdom of Rosas with her mother and grandfather. We meet the spirited teen as she is getting ready to interview to be the assistant to Rosas’ beloved ruler, King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) – a prestigious position. As Asha is welcomed into Magnifico’s charming epicenter, she becomes bewildered by the King’s greatest power: Magnifico is a sorcerer who keeps everyone’s greatest wishes in his safe keeping as soon as they turn eighteen, and he entertains his kingdom by granting only a dozen of their wishes a year. As soon as Asha realizes the inherent injustice of her home, she wishes upon a star to rebel against them and is met with a small star coming down from the sky and entering her orbit. 

Disney’s classic approach to Wish will make fans feel right at home with the new feature. 

Asha resembles recent Disney heroines like Anna, Mirabel or Moana, who are likable, a little awkward and guided by her own headstrong dreams – sometimes to a fault. Familiar as it may be, when DeBose’s dynamic voice belts out the movie’s “I Want” song, “This Wish,” it’s near-impossible not to melt at Walt Disney Animation’s winning formula being revisited once again. Wish also has something special that recent animated musicals have been without: the filmmakers chose to emulate its classic 2D animation style, even pulling original hand-painted watercolor backgrounds from movies like Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland out of its archives for inspiration. 

As Asha embarks on her adventure to restore the wishes of her kingdom with the help of her little wishing star (simply named Star) along with a baby goat in pajamas named Valentino (given the voice of Alan Tudyk by Star early in the film), Wish does an exceptional job of calling back to numerous eras in its history through its storytelling. While many of its visuals harken back to the early Disney films from the 30s to 60s, other elements will remind fans of the studio’s Renaissance Era of the 90s. Wish also has the modern sensibility that is very much led by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice’s original pop music sung by the cast. With all that, Wish is a cozy release that will have Disney fans reminiscing on their own childhood favorites while they watch, no matter what age they may be.  

Chris Pine’s King Magnifico particularly shines as one of the studio’s darkest villains yet. 

While Asha can feel like a hand-me-down from other famous Disney heroes, the arc of Chris Pine’s delicious villain makes up for some wanting inspiration in other areas. From early in the film, King Magnifico is set up as a clear bad guy and continues to be through and through. Pine clearly had a blast in the recording booth with this character and once again, really plays into his memorable charm. Of course the Disney animators are the big MVPs here, bringing beautiful visuals and a comedic flair to his big and quite wordy, sure to be a hit villain song, “The Thanks I Get.” 

King Magnifico is also a rather strong Disney character because under the surface, his arc is highlighting the glaring problems that can take hold when one becomes consumed by power. Wish goes to some dark places between the cute talking animals and catchy music, as the King only becomes more consumed by his control and influence. The movie packs quite the punch with a positive and deep message about pushing back against unfairness that systems can create. This especially shines with the footstompin’ standout track “Knowing What I Know Now.” However, a little something is lost when it comes to driving its third act, harkening back to other 90-ish minute Disney movies of the past. 

Wish spotlights common Disney tropes that make Wish predictable. 

Wish’s tribute quality is undeniably a strength to its likability and will bring joy to audiences. But, in another sense, it feels as if the 100-year prompt that inspired Wish also somewhat bogs down this movie as well. For example, Wish is ridden with easter eggs and little connections of prior Disney films, which are fun to point out and celebrate. At the same time, one has to wonder if Wish’s original story may have soared higher if the animation studio had chosen to go outside of its formulaic checklist and imagine something new to match the boldness twinkling in the eyes of its core characters. 

The filmmakers behind Wish took an impossible assignment to encapsulate the past 100 years at the studio, but they took the challenge to heart and created a glowing homage to the Disney movies we love. At the same time, here’s hoping the studio tips its starry hat more to Walt Disney’s words that “imagination has no age” into its next century with future animated features. 

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