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Review: ‘Wish’ makes a sincere effort at tribute to Disney’s magical past

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A nostalgic waltz through a fairytale kingdom, Disney’s Wish charms with pixie dust, enduring songs, and charismatic leads in Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine. Every frame of Wish’s watercolor-soft animation evokes a sense of comforting familiarity. In this cinematic ode to Disney’s legacy, Wish refers to Disney classics like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. While Wish may not be without its imperfections, it is perfectly sweet and charming. 

[Warning: Spoilers from Disney’s Wish are below!]

Ariana DeBose as Asha and Chris Pine as Magnifico are worthy foes

Ariana DeBose is a pure star, much like the song says. She brings such warmth to Asha; it’s no surprise that she already has an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in West Side Story. Her soaring voice conveyed heart and deep emotion and struck such a deep chord for me. It was soulful, making you believe Asha could summon a Star with her sincerity. DeBose’s acting and jaw-dropping voice carry Wish. 

King Magnifico’s character development is a bit bumpy, especially at his roots, but Chris Pine’s over-the-top villainous performance more than makes up for it. Pine fully embraces the role, just like he did with Edgin Darvis in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.  He balances fun and sinister in a way that makes Magnifico a true Disney villain. Chris Pine doesn’t just play the part of an evil sorcerer; he embodies it and has earned his green magic. 

Disney's Wish
Asha (Ariana DeBose) and King Magnifico (Chris Pine). Wish (Disney).

Wish’s enduring songs and stunning animation and celebrating Disney

The moment we first hear DeBose’s Asha sing in Wish with “Welcome to Rosas,” you know that the songs in the film will be memorable. Julia MichaelsBenjamin Rice, and Dave Metzger have crafted a tapestry of enchanting and unforgettable songs and music. The songs in this film strike a perfect balance between the catchy, uplifting melodies of Frozen and the infectious rhythms of Encanto. There’s even a bit of The Greatest Showman meets Les Misérables in WishThey’re the kind of tunes that get stuck in your head in the best possible way and just make you feel like you want to sing. 

The stunning animation, catchy songs, and excellent voice cast can’t entirely overshadow and correct some issues that haunt Wish.  However, the film’s strong foundation ensures it still has legs and lots of rewatch potential. 

What was an earnest and sincere tribute to the history of Disney were the fundamental building blocks of Wish that really worked: the animation, the songs, and the cast. By doing those parts well, Wish makes an honest attempt at being a fitting celebration of all that has been learned and all that has come before.  

An interesting and ineffective message

For Disney, the message behind Wish is unusually subversive and quite provocative, if not totally clear. This is especially true when you consider that this film was made to celebrate 100 years of Disney stories. There’s a clumsy allegory about capitalism, government, or maybe religion in Wish. Whatever it is, I’m not sure. But you can tell at some point that there was a more apparent line to the underlying point the folks behind Wish were trying to make. 

Residents of Rosas willingly give up their heart’s wish – what powers them in life – at age 18 in a ceremony to Magnifico for him to safeguard. Residents promptly forget whatever their wish was when Magnifico is protecting it – for their own good, of course. Because of his benevolence, he grants a monthly wish that’s good for all the residents of the Mediterranean island. 

Disney's Wish-Asha
Asha (Ariana DeBose). WIsh (Disney).

Once they give up their wish – if they don’t like it, it doesn’t seem like the docile population has any recourse. That is until Asha comes along and glimpses the narcissism and unkindness underpinning Magnifico’s supposed benevolence when it comes to her grandfather, Sabino’s wish.

Clumsy Easter eggs harm the worldbuilding

Wish is both helped and hampered by the legacy that the film’s release is meant to celebrate. The powers behind the film assume you care anything about the (probably) hundreds of Easter eggs and callbacks to Disney properties. Like the trailer before it, the movie is overstuffed with them. And when you take them in the context of the larger film, they make no sense. They’re a cute nod, but they also serve to take you out of the story. 

Every moment that there was a clumsy Disney reference, I found myself wondering why. What does this have to do with the story of Rosas, King Magnifico, or Asha? How does this impact the story we are watching on the screen? Seeing the boy who wanted to fly in a wish bubble was cute, but does that mean Peter Pan somehow made his way to the kingdom? And the others in the bubbles? The subtle references, such as John, Bambi, and the assorted talking animals, were a cute nod, but the ham-fisted ones were to the detriment of Wish’s worldbuilding. Even the hidden Mickeys were cute. But the actual characters shoehorned into the story made this fairy tale much less enchanting.

A final note about Disney’s Wish

As someone likely decades older than the intended audience for this film, I approached it without expectations. I’m not a Disney adult, but as a parent, I do have a stake in the world of children’s entertainment. And so, I found myself sitting in the theater twice, accompanied by two different groups of my child’s friends, both groups eager to be transported to the world of Wish before Asha even appeared on screen.

When the movie finished, both groups of children were happy and bouncy. Interestingly, they stayed through the end credits and happily named the animated characters from Disney’s past they saw popping up in the constellations as the names rolled by. Perhaps that’s the ultimate bellwether as to whether or not the film is achieving its goals. I have no doubt that when it eventually arrives on Disney+, there will be countless requests in my household to revisit this story and the music again and again.

Disney’s Wish is now playing in theaters nationwide. Have you watched it yet? What did you think? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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Ayla Ruby

I am a writer and interviewer based somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. I love all things nerdy - but Star Trek and Spiderman have special places in my heart. Find me at @TulinWrites on Twitter. And visit my other website for more reviews and interviews: movieswetextedabout.com

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