For the tie-in to their 100th anniversary, Disney is releasing Wish, which makes all the sense in the world. Wishing upon a star has been a huge part of their identity, after all. Thematically and in terms of marketing, it’s perfect. Now, just taken as a film, does this latest animated effort warrant all of that extra fuss? Well, yes and no. The elements that work, they really work. The elements that are less successful, well, they’re not huge issues in the slightest. So, while this isn’t necessarily a slam dunk, it’s quality animation that families can dig into. It’s often adorable, even if it only rarely reaches the heights that the studio is clearly hoping for.
Wish mixes the old and new in a manner that big Disney fans will appreciate. Animation-wise, especially, it works, as the look of the film is very distinct. Song-wise, there are a few bangers, alongside no misfires. Story-wise, it’s a bit of a bumpy ride, but you can always see what they’re trying to achieve. Smaller audience members are going to love it, while the adults in the crowd will probably just like it.
Set in the magical kingdom of Rosas, where wishes can come true, we’re introduced to Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose). She loves the kingdom, just like everyone loves their leader, King Magnifico (voice of Chris Pine). The King has the power to grant wishes, and on everyone’s eighteenth birthdays, they entrust him with their wishes, hoping to one day see them come true. Asha is interviewing with Magnifico to be his assistant, but she’s strong-willed and an idealist, bumping up with how he opts to do the granting, or in most cases, the denying.
That night, Asha makes a wish upon a star so powerful that it is answered by a literal one. Naming it Star, the pair, along with her now talking pet Valentino (voice of Alan Tudyk), set off to change things for the people of Rosas. Of course, Magnifico has no such plans to allow this to happen. A classic Disney adventure ensues. I won’t say more, but there are homages galore, as well as a third act that feels right out of a prior generation of classics.
The voice cast is highlighted by Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine, both of whom are enthusiastic and really good. Alan Tudyk certainly has the enthusiasm, but his talking animal is a one-note joke and fairly underwritten. DeBose is relishing being the heroine of this tale, while Pine is diving in to be a Disney villain with full force. They hold things together with charm and charisma, even just using their voices. Supporting voice work is provided by Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Harvey Guillén, Jennifer Kumiyama, Evan Peters, Natasha Rothwell, Ramy Youssef, and more.
Co-directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn really do bring together the old and the new here. Buck also co-writers with Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore, so this is a top tier Disney braintrust. To some degree, everyone here is looking to the Frozen franchise for inspiration, but it’s when they go off in their own directions that things sing, no pun intended. The score by Dave Metzger, along with the songs by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice, are unlikely to be chart toppers, but “Welcome to Rosas” and especially “This Wish” are highlights, with the latter having awards potential. The biggest highlight if the flick’s visuals, where hand-drawn style backgrounds/settings mix with three-dimensional characters. It’s unique, feels like the mixing of eras, and gives the work a singularity it otherwise is somewhat lacking.
Wish is cute and very solid. If it never finds a way to be incredible, well, that’s just how it is. Disney’s 100th anniversary is getting a good animated film, even if it’s not a great one. The movie will please families this holiday season, and at the end of the day, that’s what Disney has done consistently for a century now.