There is a certain general formula to Disney films that, for one hundred years now, has made the brand tremendously successful. It goes something like: in a kingdom or faraway land filled with magic, one young person learns something no one realizes and has an uphill battle to save the day by spreading that important message to those around them. While in some cases a variation on that premise can become tiresome, when it works, it can be wonderful and joyous, as evidenced by Disney’s latest effort, Wish.
In the land of Rosas, Magnifico (Chris Pine) rules as king alongside his wife, Amaya (Angelique Cabral), presiding over a kingdom full of prosperity and diversity. When residents turn eighteen, they come to present a wish to Magnifico, a trained magician, and he takes it from them for safekeeping, at which point they forget what it was. Only on certain occasions does he grant those long-preserved wishes, yet everyone in the kingdom clings to the hope that theirs will be chosen. As her 100-year-old grandfather Sabino (Victor Garber) yearns to have his wish granted, his granddaughter Asha (Ariana DeBose) applies to be the king’s apprentice and learns that his seemingly magnanimous rule isn’t quite as benevolent as it appears.
The concept of a wish being a part of one’s personality and being is an interesting one, and it works very well to set up this world. Not knowing what a person desires more than anything robs them of a crucial essence of who they are, and in the case of Asha’s friend Simon (Evan Peters), who, unlike his friends, has already turned eighteen, he has lost all spunk and energy. He’s decried as boring, lacking in the life experience of someone like Sabino, who has lived many years yet desperately wants to know what it is that he wanted more than anything yet can’t hope to remember.
There is a sense of excitement and wonder throughout this film as Asha wishes upon a star and then finds it has come to life, bouncing from animals to plants and giving them all the ability to talk. In this process there is a great deal of welcome humor, little one-liners that will make adult audiences chuckle while their kids indulge in more wholehearted laughter. Like so many other Disney films, the themes covered can be seen as truly dark but feel less threatening due to their presentation in this animated, child-friendly format with friendly, relatable characters united against the clearly identifiable bad guys.
Wish boasts fun musical numbers that make full use of the voice talent and involve impressive dance routines. But what truly distinguishes it is its stellar animation. Rather than rely fully on the more prominent computer animation, it instead combines 2D and 3D approaches for an effective look that makes it feel like the characters are popping off their fantasy surroundings to tell this engaging story. It’s a visual treat that shows that, one hundred years in, Disney isn’t reliant on any one style to convey its creative and fantastical tales.
Wish marks the directorial debut of Fawn Veerasunthorn, who has previously worked as a story artist and animator, in collaboration with Chris Buck, whose past credits include Frozen and Frozen II. They anchor a film with an extremely capable cast, led by recent Oscar winner Debose, who infuses exactly the right upbeat, nervous energy into Asha. Pine is a perfect choice for this self-obsessed villain, while Alan Tudyk steals the show as Asha’s newly verbal pet goat Valentino. Asha’s group of friends, voiced by Harvey Guillén, Ramy Youssef, and Della Saba, among others, offer welcome support to a genuinely enjoyable story.
This film’s title is another one-word hit from Disney, encapsulating all that’s involved without much need for elaboration. While Magnifico’s desire for dominance over his people does give the film a dose of worthwhile drama and force Asha to fight an uphill battle to defeat him, the theme of this film that shines through most is one of hope and joy. Simple instances of inclusion in dialogue and character traits speak to its open and embracing nature. This Thanksgiving release is a genuine crowdpleaser that radiates positivity and acceptance that feels just right for the holidays.
Awards Potential: Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score, Best Original Song
Box Office Potential: $100 million plus domestically
Renewability: Possible. Given the success of other Disney films, making more seems likely, but the story ends neatly enough.
Overall Score: B+
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Cast: Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Kumiyama, Harvey Guillén, Evan Peters, Ramy Youssef, Jon Rudnitsky
Director: Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn
Screenwriter: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn, Allison Moore
Producers: Peter Del Vecho, Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones
DP: Rob Dressel, Adolph Lusinsky
Production Design: Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay
Editor: Jeff Draheim
Score by: Dave Metzger