When it comes to how much you might enjoy ‘Wish,’ the latest film from Walt Disney Animation, it really makes a difference who you are.
On the one hand, part of me feels a little old hat at this point for once again having to accuse a theatrical Disney movie of having Disney+ energy, which I can only define with the most ephemeral of vibes, not anything specific you can derive from even UrbanDictionary. You know it when you watch it. Wish, the latest animated Disney film that constantly apologizes to itself and the audience for its existence, is about to hit theaters in time for Thanksgiving. But the only studio primed to give thanks for this particular release is, I don’t know, DreamWorks?
Unfair preambles aside, Wish is definitely one of the more difficult animated Disney movies to outright hate. It’s just too earnest, too hand on its own neck with a wry smile. Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, the story is sickly sweet simple, as it follows a 17-year-old tour guide named Asha (Ariana DeBose) who lives in the Kingdom of Rosas, a small makeshift nation more or less based on the Iberian Peninsula and formed by a powerful sorcerer named King Magnifico (Chris Pine). People from all over the world immigrate to Rosas in exchange for giving Magnifico their deepest “wish” that he then holds for safekeeping. And once a month, Magnifico grants a single one of these wishes.
“A most magical kingdom.”
All Asha wants is to see her 100-year-old grandfather Sabino’s (Victor Garber) wish granted before he passes away. But when Magnifico rejects this wish as too dangerous, Asha takes matters into her own hands by accidentally summoning a “wishing star” that could change Rosas forever. And yes, that’s the supposed to be the same wishing star from Pinocchio, because this is about where we’re at in 2023.
All right, let’s start with the film’s worst offense. Wish employs a disastrously executed riff on 2.5D animation, which has so far been practically watermarked by Sony’s Into the Spider-Verse and Across the Spider-Verse, as well as DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (which also gets the last laugh). The textures and movement of Wish are bizarrely staid and vacant, making almost no special use of this technique of combining hand-drawn and computer-generated animation. It reeks of Disney chasing a fad, rather than taking their time to innovate upon an evolving style with an approach that is uniquely theirs.
Worse, it’s a half step, not a full commitment to 2.5D. These are pretty much the same character models we’ve seen cycled over and over again since Tangled, which can be fine and utilized to decent effect, but not when you’re also attempting to shift how these models interact with each other in a totally different animation template. It doesn’t make the film unwatchable by any stretch, but only profoundly disappointing in how it constantly reminds you of how stuck in the mud Walt Disney Animation has been since the release of Moana, with few bright spots in between.
“Some of these wishes will never be granted?”
That also goes for the film’s musical numbers, which seemingly attempt to mimic Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cheeky, pulse-pounding ennui without actually having Miranda himself, so the result is pretty much a series of covers to songs that don’t exist. Magnifico gets one number, “This is the Thanks I get,” that sort of approaches the realm of foot-tapping, but his general writing as a villain/antagonist is a whole other mess of issues, the first of which being his entire motivation for making people forget the wishes they “give up.” Sure, makes sense. Why didn’t I think of that.
For a movie so averse to risk-taking, Wish takes one of the most daring, head-scratching risks of all. Imposing the Disney legacy upon itself by actually shoehorning in mini-prequels for almost every Disney movie. Think Once Upon a Time, but instead of a gaudy ABC series everyone loves to hate because it lets Captain Hook have drip in the same episode that Mulan falls in love with Sleepy Beauty, Wish will shove Peter Pan in your face out of nowhere, without warning or context or wherewithal. He’s just there. He shows up, unannounced, and he’s not alone.
“Oh, you spoil us with your magic.”
It certainly comes across as a desperate attempt to salvage a banal screenplay with first-draft dialogue by forcing it to be some grander tribute to Disney’s 100-year anniversary. Which, sure, go ahead. Make that movie. But if you’re going to make that movie, can you at least make that movie? Instead of combining it with a Disney Jr. preschool story that on its own has nothing to do, really, with the concept of a grander cohesive Disney narrative beyond how great wishes are? Because let’s be real, what Disney movie doesn’t already have some kind of “wish” component ingrained, that’s the formula at work.
It’s like if at the end of Zootopia, we suddenly had Wreck-it Ralph lifting Jason Bateman’s fox in the air declaring the magic of dreams. It’s offensive. It’s the type of self-indulgence that can’t even detect a particular “self” to “indulge.” It’s not OK.
“There is a traitor amongst us.”
But fine, sure, as a child-distraction machine, Wish will have some sort of mechanical function when it inevitably becomes a Disney+ thumbnail. You’ll notice at the bottom of this review that I rated Wish a 5/10, and while I never hope for people to read too much into arbitrary rating systems, I’ll grant an exception and say that in this case, I think 5 out of 10 people will watch Wish and say to themselves, “You know what, could’ve been worse.” The other half will contemplate waiting in line for a refund.
But Disney has been struggling to placate the masses for a while, now. There’s been much moaning about the company constantly going back to their well of successful movies and remaking them into live action films for a quick buck rather than making something original. I can almost picture Disney’s Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee (who also co-wrote the screenplay) crossing her arms at critics and fans alike for still not being satisfied with this “original” animated movie, like what you do want, people? A good movie? This is the thanks I get?!
The bottom line.
As a longtime Disney fan and reluctant millennial, I’m not worried, though. I already went through this during the 2000s, and what is Wish but yet another Brother Bear or Chicken Little. That saved-to-drafts side project accidentally shoved to the forefront while Walt Disney Animation finishes a re-org to usher in whatever new renaissance they’re going to market to us in half a decade or so. But I do ache for Gen Alpha and even Gen Z to some extent, because this is their first dose. What will their Home on the Range be? Their Meet the Robinsons and Bolt? Will they indeed discover that Mars in fact needs Moms? Only time, and those regrettable end credits to Wish, will tell.
Wish opens in theaters on November 22. Watch the trailer here.
WISH - 5/10