Wish is showing in cinemas nationwide from the 24th of November.
It’s remarkable that Walt Disney Pictures is celebrating its 100-year milestone. Through its vast catalogue of projects, few film studios have shaped multiple generations like Disney. As Pinocchio’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” is arguably the company’s most famous song, a story about wishes seems fitting for its centennial film. Wish is a decent film with good themes to share, although it somewhat buckles under the weight of its status.
Set in the fictional Mediterranean kingdom of Rosas, King Magnifico (Chris Pine) is a sorcerer with the power to grant wishes to his subjects. They make their wishes to him when they turn 18, and he gifts someone their wish once a month. Seventeen-year-old Asha (Ariana DeBose) desires to become Magnifico’s apprentice, partially so she can grant the wish of her 100-year-old grandfather – such is her generous nature. Then, she uncovers a terrible secret: Magnifico hoards the majority of his kingdom’s wishes as a means of securing his power. Distraught by this revelation, Asha wishes upon a star, which subsequently comes to life. Now aided with magic of her own, Asha decides to challenge Magnifico’s authority, arguing that people with ungranted wishes should still be allowed the right to try and make them happen.
There’s plenty to admire in the text and presentation of Wish. For starters, it boasts one of the most unique looks of any Disney animated feature. The majority of Disney’s animations were 2D hand-drawn, with an eventual switch to 3D CGI from Tangled onwards. Wish combines the two, using 2D hand-drawn backgrounds in the traditional style while utilising 3D character models. It’s an ambitious choice that creates dazzlingly colourful visuals and a setting that feels alive. While the rendering between these two different styles can be distracting in the background’s lack of motion compared to the foreground, there is a vibrancy and playfulness that translates onto the screen wonderfully.
As Asha fights for the rights of every citizen in Rosas, a surprisingly strong anti-authoritarian theme comes to the fore. Magnifico is a terrific villain whom Chris Pine captures with flair and gravitas. Similar to other great faux-heroic antagonists like Homelander or James Ironwood, his seemingly good nature is influenced and eventually corrupted by his own supremacist opinion of himself, declaring to Asha that he decides what his people deserve. He is an intimidating, deceptively sinister villain, to whom Asha is an ideal opponent as her generosity is earnest. Her story sees her standing for empathy and solidarity against Magnifico’s absolute rule and selfishness, a powerful message for audiences old and young.
Ariana DeBose is a brilliant casting choice for Asha. She channels the naivety and hope of her character’s evolving beliefs into her performance, and her voice is as marvellous as it was in Spielberg’s West Side Story. However, the songs tend to be over-reactionary in their lyrical composition, such as “All Costs”, whose declarations of protection feel melodramatic within the context of merely observing contained wishes. But the emotions within are euphoric, particularly in the leading song, “This Wish”, which will likely be the film’s answer to “Let it Go”.
As stated, this is Disney’s centennial animated feature, and it’s fully aware of this at every turn. To capitalise on this, Wish features a vast array of references and callbacks. There are, among others, visual nods to Peter Pan, dialogue references to Bambi and Mary Poppins, as well as more obvious examples, such as Asha’s band of pals being direct allusions to Snow White’s dwarves or the credits featuring images of every animated Disney feature up to Encanto.
Because of this, the film often feels more like a tribute to Disney films than a Disney film in its own right, and its premise of wishing on stars doesn’t help. It’s not as egregious as The Super Mario Bros Movie, where finger-pointing to other properties was all it had going for it, but it makes Wish somewhat hollow. It hardly lacks good ideas or gorgeous visuals, but it gets so weighed down by the unneeded urge to celebrate its parent company that the story, for all of its interesting pro-proletariat themes and affable characterisation, becomes cookie-cutter. There’s magic, kingdoms, and a young woman with a dress and animal sidekick – but little to distinguish it as its own unique property outside its diverse cast of characters.
Wish is a film that suffices but sadly doesn’t mesmerise. Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine’s performances elevate the charm and emotion of the property, enhancing the anti-authoritarian and pro-solidarity themes that are otherwise traded in for a traditional celebratory piece. Disney will continue to produce animated wonders that will shape countless people’s lives. There’s just enough of this wonder in the visuals, characters and themes that I ultimately endorse Wish as a fun time at the movies. Children will likely be engrossed by it, and parents may even find sparks of magic in it as well. It amuses with its playful comedy and, through its music and colours, occasionally shines like the star Disney has encouraged us to wish upon for a century now. It’s just a pity that, unlike Asha, the film didn’t seem willing to make its own wish come true, preferring to rigidly stick to what had come before.