“Wish” has the weight of the world — or, more aptly, castle — on its shoulders.
There’s nothing particularly unique about the film a vacuum. From a 10,000-foot view, it’s simply the latest release from Walt Disney Animation Studios, a production house that’s crafted over 60 features throughout its decorated history. If “Wish” were being released in any other year, critical and commercial expectations for the musical comedy would likely align with those of the standard Walt Disney Animation Studios release.
But it’s not being released in ‘any other year.’ It’s hitting theaters just a few weeks after the centennial anniversary of The Walt Disney Company.
Disney has celebrated its 100th birthday in various extravagant ways throughout 2023, long marketing “Wish” as a major facet of their centennial festivities. The sustained marketing push, which has contained song releases, immersive advertisements, and meet-and-greet characters at Disney Parks, amongst various other promotions, has been difficult to miss.
Walt Disney Animation Studios, in several ways, has positioned “Wish” as the culmination of their work thus far. Directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthron have noted that the movie has an extensive number of “legacy nods” to the studio’s library. The film’s premise itself is referential to the company’s canon, with Walt Disney Animation Studios COO Jennifer Lee introducing the movie at D23 Expo 2022 with the following question: “How did the wishing star upon which so many of our beloved characters wish come to be?”
Disney, in a year in which many of its films have underperformed at the box office, has a lot riding on “Wish.” The company behind transformative, medium-defining films such as “Fantasia,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Lion King” does not want the movie released in celebration of its centennial anniversary to disappoint.
Does it deliver?
I really wish it did.
“Wish” follows Asha (Ariana Debose), an ambitious idealist who makes a wish upon a star that changes the fate of her entire kingdom. Ancillary characters include King Magnifico (Chris Pine), Valentino the plush-selling talking goat (Alan Tudyk), and Star, a charming support piece who drives much of the film’s story.
The plot is intentionally straightforward, harkening back to the Walt Disney Animation Studios films of old. “Wish” tells a simple and undemanding story while attempting to let its other elements, such as its animation, music, and performances, shine.
And shine, the animation does. “Wish” is one of the more visually engaging Disney animated films in recent memory, seamlessly blending traditional and 3-D animation to craft a wholly unique look that’s new for the studio. The watercolor-like backgrounds depicting the skylines, Mediterranean architecture, and lush forests of the Kingdom of Rosas are breathtaking, and the 3-D animated characters do not look at all out of place against them. The art style looked jarring and the animation incomplete in early trailers, but they’re two of the picture’s stronger components upon final release.
The music is largely passable, with “This Wish,” performed by Academy Award-winning actress Ariana Debose, being the standout track. Disney knows this, plastering the song across most of the film’s marketing. The tune strikes the delicate balance of being pertinent to the plot and generally catchy; I found myself humming it as I walked out of the theater, and I can just imagine it playing as vibrant fireworks ignite over Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella Castle as part of a Disney Parks’ nighttime spectacular.
The other songs are fine, if not unremarkable. “This Is The Thanks I Get?!,” sung by Chris Pine, is snappy and entertaining, but I understand why Pine doesn’t take too many roles in musicals. The rest of the Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice-penned tracklist is fine but pales in comparison to “This Wish;” the movie, unfortunately, lacks its “Surface Pressure” to its “We Don’t Talk About Bruno;” its “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” to its “Circle of Life.”
The performances deliver in quality what much of the soundtrack comparatively lacks. Debose shines as Asha, a charming, easy-to-root-for protagonist who is a bit vanilla, but likable enough that you don’t mind following her throughout the 95-minute runtime. Debose’s outing is layered, effectively hitting the occasional emotional beat while simultaneously more than doing her part in every song she’s featured in.
Pine, though not the most melodic singer, delivers as Magnifico, giving a commanding performance that results in a generally strong and worthwhile antagonist who is more than worthy of his spot amongst the iconic Disney villains throng.
Alan Tudyk is satisfactory as Valentino, the talking baby goat who provides several, though fewer than anticipated, moments of comic relief throughout the movie. His role in the film is clear: he’s the cute animal protagonist who is there to sell merchandise, and you know what? He works. Valentino is cute, especially when paired with Star. The two combine for several endearing moments that are as humorous as they are adorable.
The additional characters are fine for as much as they’re in the movie, but they ultimately fall victim to what will, for some, be this movie’s fatal flaw. They’re unremarkable.
I liked “Wish.” I thought the main characters were pleasant. I enjoyed a handful of the songs. I found the animation to be exceptionally strong.
But after my viewing, I just felt… empty. The movie is quite milquetoast and generally forgettable; I’m not sure I’m going to remember the majority of it in 100 days, let alone 100 years.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a movie being “fine.” It’s just disappointing that a film like “Wish,” with the level of care and marketing afforded to it, couldn’t conquer the descriptor.
The movie doesn’t break the mold thematically or with its story; it’s simple and easy to follow but lacks any elements or beats that will truly stick with you. The vast majority of its characters, while affable, are one dimensional, with only a select few truly given the screentime necessary to grow. While “This Wish” is certainly, for lack of a better term, a bop, it will likely be the only song from the movie that resonates over time.
The film’s strengths are certainly robust enough to make this an enjoyable night out at the theater for the family, but its shortcomings prevent it from threading the needle and crossing the line from “fun, but forgettable” to “the next Disney masterpiece.”
This movie falls short of the strongest, or even the upper mid-tier, offerings of the Walt Disney Animation Studios library in most gaugeable ways. One could argue that it’s unfair to measure any film, even “Wish,” against some of the most iconic movies ever made, but I’d rebut that it’s difficult to avoid doing so when the film in question is constantly reminding you of the existence of the better features.
The “legacy nods” mentioned by Buck and Veerasunthorn in the lead-up to “Wish” are plentiful, ranging from delightful subtle references to facepalm-inducing schlock. I’ll refrain from entering spoiler territory, but “Wish” starts with a heartfelt animated callback that will please any Walt Disney Animation Studios fan and build excitement for the film’s impending references. By the time the final ‘nod’ is made, fans may audibly groan, assuming their eyes haven’t already rolled into the back of their heads.
Criticism aside, you likely won’t be disappointed with “Wish” if you go in with fair expectations. If you enter your screening in search of a passable animated musical comedy with a bit of that classic Disney charm, you’ll enjoy your experience, and your family will be entertained for the immediate future. If you go in expecting a movie that reaches the heights of Walt Disney Animation Studios films of old, you may leave underwhelmed.
“Wish” isn’t bad. It’s just forgettable.
But when the company that’s crafted films like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” and “Cinderella,” that’s touched the lives of millions of people over their century of existence, markets a movie as the culmination of their work to this point… “forgettable” is perhaps the most disappointing outcome of all.
“Wish” hits domestic theaters on November 22. Watch the latest here:
Will you be checking out “Wish” when it’s released next week? Let us know in the comments.