Wish review: Magical and nostalgic, but not an instant Disney classic
Wish will land with younger audiences, and tick a lot of the right boxes for adults that grew up watching Disney films, but its not-fully-formed plot lets it down.
The Walt Disney Company has been commemorating its 100th anniversary all year long, with celebrations leading up to a very special event – the release of the film Wish.
The musical that blends 2D and 3D animation is set in the kingdom of Rosas, which is ruled by the powerful sorcerer King Magnifico (Chris Pine), the only one allowed to use magic. He sets up the community to safeguard people’s wishes, with the ability to grant them when he chooses.
Asha (the Oscar-winning Ariana DeBose) is desperate to be his apprentice, but when she realises some wishes will never be granted, including that of her 100-year-old grandfather (Victor Garber), she makes her own wish upon a star. As she does, it takes on life as Star, an energetic yellow being that will help her and her friends protect Rosas from the power-hungry Magnifico.
When You Wish Upon a Star was written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for 1940’s Pinocchio, and since the 1980s, the melody has played over the Disney logo before all its films. Disney is very much in the business of making magic, and for its 62nd animated feature film, it taps into our collective nostalgia, but fails to make this an instant classic, like, indeed, Pinocchio, or the more recent Encanto.
There is clear evidence of tapping into the catchiness of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack for the latter, with a few bits of rap-singing throughout Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice’s songs for Wish.
Theatre star DeBose and Pine really shine in their musical numbers – Magnifico's This Is the Thanks I Get?! is an indignant anthem fit for any Disney villain, and Asha’s This Wish and I’m a Star are empowering bops. While they’re perfectly pleasant, the only problem is they fail to become earworms like Frozen’s Let It Go or Aladdin’s A Whole New World.
Wish will land with younger audiences, and you can already see the soft toy versions of the characters flying off the shelves. Star is unbelievably cute (how couldn’t you love an expressive character that goes around “booping” people’s noses?), and talking goat Valentino (Alan Tudyk, who has voiced many a Disney character) provides a lot of comedy value.
The film also ticks a lot of the right boxes for adults that grew up watching Disney films, especially if you look closely; the tale begins with a storybook, Bambi and Peter Pan are referenced, and Asha’s seven friends bear a striking resemblance to the ones in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Look out for the familiar three circles that make up Mickey Mouse as there are a few subtle appearances. Star’s facial features, especially the heart-shaped face, are also inspired by the famous mouse’s own.
At the screening of Wish I was in, I saw children and adults alike wearing Mickey Mouse merch – whether that was a hoodie, a backpack or a T-shirt. The beloved character celebrates his 95th birthday this year, and the fact that he is still a very present cultural icon all this time later is a testament to Disney’s enduring legacy.
It's the not-fully-formed plot that mainly lets Wish down. The biggest problem is not knowing why Magnifico goes out on his wish-crushing rampage – all we know is he experienced tragedy himself, so he is potentially relatable and redeemable, but it’s hard to tell without knowing his full backstory.
Disney’s nine-minute short film Once Upon a Studio, where its iconic characters interact with each other to take a group photo, probably does a better job at pulling on the heartstrings and capturing the company’s last 100 years than Wish does.
Wish is like Disney patting itself on the back (make sure you watch the credits and post-credits scene), but then, why shouldn’t it? We could all do with a little hope. When Asha tells her friends she made a wish on a star, one of them says, “What, are you five?” Whether we’re five or 105, in the joyous safe space of Disney films where magic exists, animals can talk, and dreams come true, you’ll always be encouraged to keep on wishing.
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