2023 marked the 100th anniversary of the Disney company, with a massive celebration a century in the marking. What it turned out to be in reality was very little, outside of merch drops the Disney 100 Years of Wonder branding proved to entail little to no fanfare. From Marvel films underperforming and getting the worst reviews of entire MCU, the once-thriving streaming platform lacking successful original content, the new 'Indiana Jones' tanking and being poorly reviewed, while the parks had few new rides and some changes with Genie+ being received poorly. Then all three of the theatrically-released Disney-branded films - 'The Little Mermaid', 'Elemental' and 'Haunted Mansion' - all either underperformed or suffered from mediocre receptions. Disney in its 100th year, arguably one of the biggest for the company, felt like it was failing at every turn (how was 'Star Wars' one of their only brands to be successful this year?) - but there was still some hope in sight with their big animated release, 'Wish', an animated feature branded as "a century in the making", a big celebration of the very thing the company was founded on. A musical set to honour the theme of the company "When You Wish a Upon a Star", would 'Wish' save one of Disney's most lacklustre years?
'Wish' is set in the Kingdom of Rosas ruled by King Magnifico (Chris Pine, 'A Wrinkle in Time', 2009's 'Star Trek'). He created a kingdom to protect his people, and is the only one that can grant their wishes. Upon a subject's 18th birthday, they will pass their wish to him and he will decide whose gets to become a reality. Asha (Ariana DeBose, 'Hamilton', 2021's 'West Side Story') has her heart set on getting her 100-year-old's grandfather Sabino's (Victor Garber, 'Titanic', 'You Again'), wish granted at the next wish-granting ceremony. When she has a job interview with the King, she realises that he never intends to grant everyone's wish as they prove to be a threat to his power. Disappointed with this information, she makes a wish on a star... who comes to life, proving to be a big threat to Magnifico's power. Now teamed up with a star, Valentino the talking goat (Alan Tudyk, 'Rouge One: A Star Wars Story', 'Moana') and her friends, it's up Asha to protect Rosas!
SWITCH: 'WISH' TRAILER
'Wish' is one of Disney's blandest and most forgettable musical ventures ever. It tries to bite off more than it can chew and never sticks the landing. Everything feels so derivative of past films - not in homage, but fizzling into a hollow void.
We do need to first touch on this being the big Disney 100 release. More so than 'The Little Mermaid' early this year, this film is the big celebration of 100 years and it's part of why I'm harsher on 'Wish'. If they wanted this to pay tribute to the legacy of the animated canon, 'Wish' fails at every turn. The music really should have been penned by a Disney legend - get Alan Menken, Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, hell, get Lin-Manuel Miranda in - the music is one of the biggest letdowns. They don't even have to do every song, just one each would have been an improvement. We then have "cameos"; a talking deer who they call 'Bambi' for no reason, it isn't even designed to look him and later we have Magnifico look at wishes and he says, "Oh this one will Neverland," "Oh a magical nanny, I'll pop that wish." While these are fine in concept they feel so out of place and shoehorned in because this is the film being released to coincide with the 100th anniversary. The credits also have pictures of characters from most of the animated canon. Honestly, it again felt so strange that 'Wish', one of the most mundane Disney movies, gets such a big legacy attached to it.
We then have the titular 'Wish', and the movie doesn't seem to understand what it wants wishes to be. For the most part, they seem to be more like dreams - some want to know how to sail boats, another wants to make outfits, but then we have another who wants to fly, but when it's granted it's her getting plane lessons. There is then also the idea that when you give up your wish to the King you forget it, and for some people that affects their mood and behaviour. None of this really ties together or makes a whole lot of sense when you attempt to think about it for too long.
Asha and King Magnifico are really the only characters in the film and even then, they are handled so poorly. Asha is just every other Disney heroine we have seen before - yes, she is brave and loyal and all the other characteristics we have seen time and time again, but with no other spin on it. Ariana DeBose is great casting but they give her nothing to do. It's the same with King Magnifico, who Disney is marketing as the return of the Disney Villains. While it's true that he's a villain, he's also misguided. They start him out as a sympathetic figure, evening singing a duet with Asha where they have similar ideas, but his villainous turn seems mishandled. Asha gets angry at him when she finds out that he won't grant her grandfather's wish, but we already know he decides who gets their wish in a monthly ceremony. I think they were hinting that he can't grant all the wishes because that would be chaos, which would have made for a stronger arc if that was actualised. Instead, Asha makes a wish on a star and he becomes threated, turns to an ancient spellbook and now he is possessed. He then needs the wishes to be more powerful, which would have been a stronger starting point, but it's just lazily shoehorned into the third act.
'Wish' is one of Disney's blandest and most forgettable musical ventures ever. Everything feels so derivative of past films - not in homage, but fizzling into a hollow void.
Outside of those two characters, the film feels so empty. Asha's friends are forgettable and while the idea of them being inspired by the Seven Dwarfs is cute, it goes nowhere. Because they are always together it's so hard to differentiate them from one another. So many characters come and go; there was one point where Asha was talking to her grandfather and another character was there, it took me two more scenes to realise that was her mother. Valentino and Star are at least fun Disney sidekicks and when they were on screen, I did enjoy them.
The big one - the music. This is truly the weakest musical Disney has ever been. The opening song 'Welcome to Rosas' is just 'The Family Madrigal' from 'Encanto'. It just feels like Disney saw the success that song had on TikTok and wants to do it again but worse. Then we get 'At All Costs', which is where we see the other point of reference for another soundtrack, 'The Greatest Showman'. It just sounds like a pop song. Most of the songs from 'Wish' have that same sound, which makes sense since songwriter Julia Michaels hasn't written music for film before and her previous writing credits come from artists like Shawn Mendes, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber. These are not bad songs and they all sound fine, but they are not Disney or even musical numbers - they are pop music. Most of the numbers rarely mention plot points, and have such open-ended metaphors that they don't stand up to any of Disney's previous soundscapes. I've been listening to the soundtrack since seeing the film and nothing sticks, which is so incredibly disappointing.
Easily the best song is 'This Wish', which does still fall victim to some of the previous criticisms I've mentioned above. It's the big "I want" song, and DeBose is such a vocal powerhouse that you can't help but enjoy this moment in the film. Next up, 'I'm a Star' sounds like a Kidz Bop number; empty empowering lines for kids that again don't serve the story. And then we get to 'This is the Thanks I Get?!', the return of the villain song and boy, people rag on Lin-Manuel Miranda but this song proves he is the only that can do that style. It's like talk/rap that just doesn't stick the landing and is the weakest villain number we have ever seen. With lyrics like "I let you live here for free and don't even charge you rent" and the chorus being the title of the song for four lines, it just leaves a forgettable taste in my mouth. The last song, 'Knowing What I Know Now', is another open-ended statement song with empty lyrics and doesn't progress anything forward. It's a war chant sound and tonally the most different from the other numbers; it also is the one that stops the movie dead for them to sing this song and then once done they repeat everything that happened in the song as dialogue. 'Wish' should not have had this bad a soundtrack.
I don't want to hate 'Wish'. At its core it's fine, but when you add in all these other factors - especially the Disney 100 release - it only increases the disappointment. It cost more than most of Disney's 2010s releases, including 'Frozen II', and its stylistic choice of watercolour backgrounds and CGI characters never really works - at the start it was very noticeable and felt like the characters were never in the same place, but as the film goes on you forget about it. If you want to honour Disney's legacy, pull up Disney+ or bring out your home entertainment collection and watch any other animated film - hell, one of the only Disney releases this year that invoked nostalgia was the final season of 'High School Musical: The Musical – The Series', the only Disney title that achieved any kind of successful homage in Disney 100. Animated Disney films are the one thing I look forward to each holiday season, and I haven't been this let down in a long time. It's my 'Wish' that we forget about this one.