WISH | Disney Studios Canada | November 22, 2023
Starring: Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Kumiyama, Harvey Guillén, Niko Vargas, Evan Peters, Ramy Youssef, Jon Rudnitsky, Della Saba
Directed By: Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn
A wish is worth everything in Rosas, a country ruled by King Magnifico (voice of Chris Pine), who aims to collect everyone’s wishes for himself. When Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose), a sharp-witted idealist, refuses to give the king her wish, she then decides to make the wish herself.
It is so powerful that the wish is answered by a cosmic force named Star, who harbors magic dust that makes wishes come true. Together, Asha and Star confront the king, their most formidable foe, to save the community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of stars, wondrous things can happen.
REVIEW By Darren Zakus
Wish is for the dreamer in everyone, conjuring up a magical celebration of and love letter to Disney’s legacy as a studio, brought to life by stunning animation, incredible voice performances from Ariana DeBose, Alan Tudyk and Chris Pine, and a story full of Disney magic.
For one hundred years, Disney has been entertaining audiences with unforgettable stories full of memorable characters, magic, adventure, romance, excitement, and incredible songs that you will be signing for days. And there is no better film for Disney Animation to release to celebrate the company’s 100th birthday than Wish. The film is all about wishes and dreams, heralding back to Walt Disney’s dream for the company, and the film leans heavily into the studio’s legendary history. It’s a magical tale that will make you believe again in dreams, full of references to the studio’s previous films that will have Disney fans geeking out, proving that over one hundred years later, no one does magic like Disney.
In the kingdom of Rosas, the citizens entrust their deepest wish for safe keeping to their king, Magnifico, in hopes that he will grant it one day. Before entrusting her wish to Magnifico, Asha wishes upon a star, and gets more than she bargained for. That star is a young trouble-making star that comes down from the sky and joins Asha on her adventure to help bring to life the dreams of the people of Rosas.
There is no doubt that Wish has the perfect story to celebrate Disney’s 100th anniversary, as it is all about dreamers and wishes, which is the backbone of the studio and Walt Disney’s original vision for the company. It captures the idea that everyone has a dream, and that dream is a fundamental part of who they are as a person, giving the film a truly original idea to play with. While the mechanics of the story feel reminiscent of many of the Disney films that came before it, the film builds on that nostalgia and harnesses it with a new magical adventure. Some are more obvious such as Asha’s friends who all share a signature personality trait with the Seven Dwarfs, to some more subtle like the floating wishes that calls back to the floating lanterns in Tangled. This should come as no surprise as the story was written by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, who were responsible for Disney hits like Frozen and Zootopia, both of which fully embraced the studio’s legacy, and the direction of this film captures that Disney magic from start to finish. Not only is it a celebration of what the studio has stood for, but it's a loving tribute to Walt Disney and his original dream, of whom one of the characters is based on. It’s a subtle tribute, and one you have to sit through the credits to fully understand, but that post credit scene is without question one of the most beautiful scenes of the year and an all timer for post credit scenes.
After seeing West Side Story, there was no doubt in my mind that there were great things in store for DeBose, and two years later she is making her Disney debut as the studio’s latest heroine: Asha. DeBose’s spirited voice performance is sensational, capturing Asha’s spirit instantly and helping to bring to life a dreamer, but also a fiercely independent and courageous young woman that fits in perfectly with the other memorable heroines of the studio. Then DeBose begins singing and you know she was born to be a Disney character. Chris Pine is equally as impressive as the film’s villain, Magnifico. As he does with all of his roles, Pine oozes confidence and charisma, but he brings a true darkness to his voice that calls back to classic Disney villains. Whether it be the wickedness of the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, or the toxic masculine narcissism of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Pine captures the best of each villain with a powerful voice performance, that combined with his character’s gross betrayal of trust of his kingdom’s residences, creates one of the most sinister Disney villains of all time.
Disney films have always had lovable sidekick characters, and Wish is no exception to that expectation thanks to Star and Valentino. Star is a bundle of energy and fun, capturing a childlike mischievousness and sense of wonder without uttering any words, that will for sure become a must have stuffed animal for every child that sees this movie. Then there is Alan Tudyk’s Valentino, my personal favourite character of the film. With a deep voice, Tudyk captures a spunk to Valentino that results in some of the film’s funniest moments, showcasing Tudyk’s unmatched voice abilities after previously voicing countless Disney characters. He is a chameleon when it comes to his voice, and he finally gets the starring role he has long deserved in Wish. The rest of the voice cast is great, including talents like Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Evan Peters, Jon Rudnitsky, Ramy Youssef and Harvey Guillén, ensuring that there is no shortage of star power throughout the film… even if you don’t recognize their voices in their characters.
Since the studio’s inception, music has always been at the forefront. When you think of classic Disney films, you instantly think of the songs that have accompanied their films. There is no Pinocchio without “When You Wish Upon a Star”, The Lion King without “Hakuna Matata” or Beauty and the Beast without “Beauty and the Beast”. For the music of Wish, Disney has enlisted songwriter Julia Michaels, the writer behind hits for artists like Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and Hailee Steinfeld, for her Disney debut, and the results are good. There is no questioning that the songs are well written and that they are brilliantly performed by the entire cast, notably by DeBose and Pine who both have magnificent singing voices. “This Wish” is the song that audiences are going to remember, which is the film’s resounding anthem that is reminiscent of “Belle (Reprise)”, “Go the Distance” and “Let It Go” and the song that will be stuck in my head for days. But the rest of the songs are missing that Disney spark. It’s very clear that Michaels’s skills lie in the Billboard Top 100 realm, and not in the musical theatre. The sequences for each song captures the Disney magic, but the songs themselves feel like something you will hear on the radio and not in a musical. This lack of a musical theatre background like some of Disney’s best song writers like Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Lin-Manuel Miranda had, or the innate sense of storytelling that Robert and Richard Sherman had while working on films with Walt Disney in the studio’s early days, prevents the majority of the songs from feeling like an integral part of the story, but more of a fun music break. They’re fun and catchy, but they do not have the staying power that Disney songs are known for.
Disney has always pushed the boundaries of animation, and they have done so yet again with the animation in Wish. The film feels like it is a watercolour painting come to life, taking the visual aesthetic of a watercolour painting and mixing it with three dimensional animation, and the results are breathtaking. It results in a mesmerizing visual experience that feels fresh and exciting for the animation genre, while harkening back to Disney’s beginnings with two dimensional animation. For visual inspiration, it is evident that the creative team looked greatly to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty while designing the world of Rosas, and it’s something that every Disney fan will pick up on instantly. And sprinkled throughout the film are dozens of references to Disney animation films of every era of the studio’s life and hidden Mickeys that creates a magical Easter egg to enjoy alongside the film.
Disney has always captured something magical in their films, transporting audiences to fantastical worlds and taking them on unforgettable adventures, and they have done so yet again with Wish. In one film, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck have captured one hundred years of Disney’s legacy, simultaneously paying tribute to it as well as harnessing it to create a new story that is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Disney stories. Whether it be the powerful voice performances of Ariana DeBose, Alan Tudyk and Chris Pine, the magnificent watercolour animation, or the story about dreams and wishes which is the heart of Disney’s legacy, Wish is a triumphant celebration of Disney magic that despite not having that usual caliber of Disney songs, is the perfect love letter to everything that Disney stands for.