Art can move you, but animated art moves back. That’s why the medium of animation has always been so impactful. Few have elevated the art of animation more than Walt Disney, and while the company looks a lot different today than the small studio Walt and his brother Roy formed a century ago, it keeps moving forward, echoing one of his core values. Since 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the list of tried and true classics that have come from Walt Disney Animation Studios has been seemingly endless. And so, in the spirit of classics like Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen comes Wish.
Asha is a 17-year-old dreamer living in the Kingdom of Rosas, ruled by the magical King Magnifico. When citizens turn 18, they give their wish to Magnifico, who protects it until he decides it's the right time to be granted. But when Asha interviews to become the sorcerer king’s newest apprentice, she learns that most of the wishes, including that of her 100-year-old grandfather Sabino, will never be granted. And since people forget what their wish was when they give it up, she feels the right thing to do is for King Magnifico to give them back so people can try to make their dreams come true on their own. At odds with the way the world works, Asha looks to the sky and makes a wish… What she never expected was that the star she wished upon would come down to Rosas to help her!
Leaning into the heritage of Disney fairytales, Wish offers a potpourri of familiar elements that play like comfort food. Opening with a storybook, pairing the protagonist with a talking animal sidekick, and an overarching narrative of striving to make a dream come true are hallmarks of many favorite Disney animated classics. But at the same time, Wish is an original story, untethered to public notions of what it should be, which gives it permission to stand on its own and be its own thing.
Every Disney animated classic is a reflection of its time. Wish is decidedly 2023, which is most evident through its songs. We look back at films that predate us and forget that songs like “So This Is Love” (from Cinderella) were written in the crooner style that was so popular in the 1950s. Disney Animation typically attracts songwriting talents from Broadway that bring a more timeless musical quality to the films, although they have occasionally broken the mold by hiring pop writers, such as Peggy Lee for Lady and the Tramp and Elton John for The Lion King. Wish falls into that category, with Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice bringing contemporary pop sounds to the film after penning bops for the likes of Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber. “This Wish” has elements of a classic “I Want” song, but also breaks the mold. The villain, King Magnifico, gets his own vengeful anthem (“This is the Thanks I Get?!”), which, in my opinion, is this film’s “Let It Go” or “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” But it also has the animal-driven motivational number (“I’m a Star”) and a rallying cry (“Knowing What I Know Now”) that rivals “Kill the Beast.”
The visual language of Wish is firmly rooted in the past while making use of modern technology. Diehard Disney Animation fans will quickly pick up on pastiches of visual development legends like Eyvind Earle and Mary Blaire, as well as contemporary callbacks to recent films (a diamond pattern in King Magnifico’s study is very reminiscent of Frozen 2, for example). But weaving in Disney’s longstanding history of pushing the artistic boundaries of animation, this computer-generated world has a handmade feel, with backgrounds often appearing like the flat bottom layer of a multiplane camera shot.
There are a lot of homages and Easter Eggs creating fun callback moments, but they’re used more sparingly than I expected. Story is the most important part of any great Disney film, and Wish has a great one. It’s easy to relate to Asha, voiced by Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose. King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) is the type of Disney Villain you love to hate. Valentino (voiced by Disney Animation’s good luck charm, Alan Tudyk) brings a lot of comedy to his scenes, and the pantomime character Star (inspired by Mickey Mouse) is a real scene stealer. The only classic Disney element Wish is missing is a love story, but to add one would’ve been superfluous for the film’s well-paced 90 minutes. It’s perfect as-is, and you don’t need a crystal ball to see that Wish is an instant classic.
I give Wish 5 out of 5 points on a star.
Wish arrives exclusively in theaters on November 22nd.
P.S.: There’s a post-credit scene.