Disney Animation Debuts 20 Minutes of “Wish” with Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee

Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee took the stage today at Annecy Festival to give attendees a first look at Wish. While the film is about 50% completed, Jennifer shared her excitement about giving a room full of animation industry hopefuls a look into how the magic is made. Through 20 minutes of footage, plus some character reveals, I can now say that Wish is easily my most anticipated film for the rest of the year.

Before diving into Wish, the winners of the 11th Disney Art Challenge were announced. Out of 373 submissions, the jury chaired by Wish directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn narrowed the list down to 10 finalists, 4 of whom took home awards and prizes for their achievement. The theme of this year’s challenge was “Wishes Come True.” First place went to Philémon Jung (L'Atelier), second place went to Ewen Crignou (EMCA), third place went to Lisa Guichard (Bellecour Ecole), and the audience award went to Nicolas Diaz (Ecole Emile Cohl).

When Wish arrives in theaters on November 22nd, it will be accompanied by the short Once Upon a Studio, which premiered on the opening night of Annecy. Those who missed it got a second screening, with directors Trent Correy and Dan Abraham there to introduce it. They were emotional afterward when the crowd gave them a standing ovation worthy of Céline Dion after a night in Vegas. The crowd didn’t want to stop cheering for them, and both directors got misty-eyed as they welcomed legendary animator Eric Goldberg to join them on stage, which yielded yet another standing ovation.

We were treated to two behind-the-scenes videos about the making of Once Upon a Studio. The first was set in Walt Disney’s restored office in Burbank with Disney Legend Richard Sherman sitting at the same piano he used to pitch songs for films like Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book to Walt Disney. On Friday nights, Walt would famously call the Sherman Brothers up to his office and say, “Play it.” By that, he meant “Feed the Birds,” a song that so encapsulated his philosophy on life that he liked to wrap up the work week with it. During a touching moment in the short when Mickey walks past a framed portrait of Walt, the melody can be heard. What you’ll hear in the film is from that day, of Richard Sherman back at the piano, the same one he used to introduce the song to Walt Disney. And, it was recorded on a Friday evening.

The other Once Upon a Studio video was about Burny Mattinson, who appears on screen in the short’s introduction. Having passed away just shy of his 70th anniversary with the studio, Burney worked with more of the characters featured in the short than anybody else (Eric Goldberg says there’s over 500). Trent and Dan recalled how excited Burny was to make his big-screen debut. And Eric Goldberg also confirmed that all of the animation in the short is 100% original, with nothing recycled. And any hand-drawn elements are truly hand-drawn, with a pencil on paper.

How do you follow that up? Well, 20 minutes of the next Disney animated feature is a worthy choice. Jennifer Lee recalled a 2018 conversation with her Frozen co-director Chris Buck about the need to do something special to commemorate the studio’s 100th anniversary. The result is Wish, a film that celebrates the rich legacy of Disney Animation while pushing the medium forward. Jennifer Lee serves as a writer on the film alongside Allison Moore (Night Sky, Manhunt), and the directing duo of Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn are so busy leading the project that they couldn’t take time away to travel to France. The music in the film is a full-circle moment for Julia Michaels, whose vocals could be heard in the background of Demi Lovato’s end-credit version of “Let It Go” from Frozen. With 7 original songs in Wish, Julia Michaels becomes the youngest songwriter to create songs for a Disney animated film.

The visual style of Wish pays tribute to Disney films of the past. Artists like Gustaf Tenggren and Kay Nielsen, who helped define the look of Disney Animation in the Golden Age, are being emulated by Lisa Keene, David Womersley, and Michael Giaimo. Jennifer Lee showed a side-by-side image of Gustaf Tenggren’s concept for the dwarfs cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs next to Lisa Keene’s artwork of a cottage from Wish as an example of how artists of the past have shaped the visual language of this film. The elegance of Sleeping Beauty was also borrowed, with Wish being presented in that film’s CinemaScope aspect ratio.

Story always comes first, and Jennifer Lee walked the audience through the premise of Wish, which is set in the Kingdom of Rosas, an island kingdom. Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose) is a leader in the making who has been hand chosen to interview to be the new assistant to King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine). He’s a sorcerer who created Rosas as a place where he could protect people’s powerful dreams in an effort to grant them. But during Asha’s interview, she sees firsthand that King Magnifico’s intentions may not be as pure as they seem. Her grandfather Sabino is about to celebrate his 100th birthday, and all he wants is for his wish to come true. He can’t remember what it was, for when wishes are given to King Magnifico, the dreamer forgets all about it. But Asha sees her grandfather’s pure wish and realizes something’s not right with the way King Magnifico is selecting whose wishes get granted and whose don’t.

Accompanied by her goat sidekick Valentino (voiced by Disney’s good luck charm, Alan Tudyk), Asha goes to the wishing tree she used to frequent with her father. She uses her voice to make a wish, and suddenly, something strange happens. A sentient star (named Star) falls from the sky, and Asha sees firsthand that Valentino and all of her animal friends are given the ability to talk (and sing!). Will Asha be able to free the stolen wishes from King Magnifico? You’ll have to find out when Wish arrives in theaters on November 22nd.

There was one more character element revealed that should excite Disney fans. Asha has a group of teenage friends, known as “The Teens.” There are seven of them, each with a distinct personality. We got to see test animation of each of their walk cycles, which was set to “Heigh-Ho.” Jennifer hinted that one might be a little grumpier than the rest, or one of them could have a habit of sneezing often. We also learned that one of them is named Dahlia, who is Asha’s best friend. She’s sort of the brains of The Teens, with her spectacles and all.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).