Wish (2023, dirs. Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn)

by | Nov 22, 2023

Certificate: U

Running Time: 92 mins

UK Distributor: Disney

UK Release Date: 24 November 2023

WHO’S IN WISH?

Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Kumiyama, Evan Peters, Harvey Guillén, Ramy Youssef, Niko Vargas, Della Saba, Jon Rudnitsky

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn (directors), Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore (writers), Peter Del Vecho and Juan Pablo Reyes (producers), Dave Metzger (composer), Rob Dressel and Adolph Lusinsky (cinematographers), Jeff Draheim (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In a faraway kingdom, a young woman (DeBose) encounters a magical wishing star…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON [TITLE]?

When you’re the most popular company in the world, with billions in revenue and a reputation for creating some of the most beloved movies of all time, you’ve earned the right to be more than a little self-congratulatory as you approach your 100th birthday. Although, when Walt Disney co-founded what would eventually become The Walt Disney Company in 1923, I doubt he would have suspected that, in commemoration of his business’s first centenary, the powers that have since succeeded him would release a film that feels less like a genuine celebration of his company’s values and storytelling, and more like a glorified circle-jerk session that carries very little for those outside the circle to enjoy.

Wish, the studio’s 62nd overall animated feature, is a massive disappointment that is, to its credit, a good representation of what Disney has largely become as of late: a soulless and cynical corporation that refuses to take any risks in the areas that matter, and recycles what worked in the past without making any real preservations for its future.

The film is set in the kingdom of Rosas, which is ruled by the revered sorcerer King Magnifico (Chris Pine) who has won favour by taking the wishes of his subjects and granting them to those he deems worthy. One day, though, he is challenged by optimistic teenager Asha (Ariana DeBose) who believes that, by withholding most of Rosas’ wishes, Magnifico is effectively controlling their fate. She then does what just about any Disney protagonist would do: wish upon a star, only here said star comes down into the kingdom and forms its own magical personality, which Asha must now protect from Magnifico’s grasp if she is to save the kingdom from his tyrannical rule.

As you may have gathered upon reading, the plot for Wish is a very standard Disney template, containing just about every recognisable trope that has been present in almost every animated Disney movie to date. Fairy-tale kingdom? Check. Beautiful princess figure? Check. Cute animal sidekick (who here is a goat that eventually gains the voice of Disney lucky charm Alan Tudyk)? Very much a check. The checklist goes on and on, with no convention left unused, and in fairness it’s easy to understand why they’d opt for such a familiar structure. After all, this is intended to be a celebration of what Disney has been to so many people across its 100-year lifespan, that being a manufacturer of many beloved stories where wishes can come true with a little bit of magic and perseverance though some difficult obstacles.

The problem, though, is that Wish simply doesn’t do anything to show why these conventions have lasted throughout an entire century. Instead, it just doubles down on every little identifiable trope – minus some of the more outdated ones, of course – in a narrative that, ironically, represents some of the least imaginative storytelling in the studio’s recent history. Nothing against co-writer Jennifer Lee, who in addition to also serving as Disney’s chief creative officer has also brought onboard her Frozen co-director Chris Buck in the same role as before (shared here with Fawn Veerasunthorn in her directorial debut), but her and Allison Moore’s script lacks the magical spark to make any of the basic plotting and the even more basic characterisations feel as captivating as some of the company’s best work. Once again, they just rely on the structure that Disney has become known for, without shaking things up like Lee did in her script for Frozen, and because of that it feels old-fashioned in the least satisfactory sense.

Then, there are all the endless winks and nods to other Disney movies that are, again, in keeping with the celebratory intention of this movie, but just come across as self-indulgent Easter eggs that detract from the main plot. For instance, there are a group of supporting characters who very closely resemble certain other memorable figures from one of Disney’s earlier classics, to where they not only look and dress almost exactly like them but also have pretty much the same personality traits, as though it wasn’t already obvious who they’re meant to be an homage to. All you’re thinking of while watching them is nothing about these actual characters, but the classic ones that they resemble who are far more memorable and iconic than these ones will ever be. Other visual cues will relentlessly pop up in the background and sometimes even the foreground, and it can take you out of the experience you’re supposed to be having because you’re constantly being reminded of all these other Disney movies that you’d honestly rather be watching than this one.

There isn’t much choice but to notice all the look-at-me Disney references, because there’s little to latch onto with the actual narrative being presented here. The main characters are pretty bland, though not due to its voice actors with Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine doing fairly well with their respective hero and villain roles, the songs – co-written by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice – are fine but not instantly memorable, and even the animation, which is an interesting blend of contemporary CG graphics with traditional watercolour backgrounds and outlines, gives it an odd aesthetic that almost makes it look like something that would be shown on Disney Junior rather than on the big screen. Pair all that with its generic narrative, and you have an extremely safe Disney movie that lacks the drive or soul to work despite its limitations; say what you will about last year’s underwhelming animated offering Strange World, but it was at least ambitious and set out to do something different, whereas Wish never goes beyond the Disney threshold.

In a way, having something as formulaic as Wish be the film to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Disney feels like a disservice. For many people, myself included, Disney represents a beacon of storytelling, whether it’s the more traditional fairy tale or the adventurous desire to try new things for the changing times. By lacking that most fundamental of Disney ingredients, the drive to tell a meaningful story that captures the imagination of the viewer, Wish fails to encapsulate what Disney can and should stand for, instead of capitalising on easy nostalgia and conservative structures to make more money than it already has.

It is a colossal disappointment, one that only true die-hard Disney fans can appreciate but will most likely forget about shortly after, before moving on to one of the many other films that the company has made over its first hundred years.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Wish is a major disappointment that attempts to commemorate Disney’s 100th anniversary with a familiar structure and endless Easter eggs to the company’s legacy, but by doing nothing to shake up the generic narrative it ends up being a self-indulgent pat on the back with little else to latch onto, which ends up being the opposite of what Disney should be.

Two out of five stars

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