After ruling Hollywood for over a decade, Disney has endured a mostly underwhelming year among critics and moviegoers. The fact that this box office slump coincides with Disney’s 100th anniversary only adds to the disappointment. Thankfully, Disney is rounding out 2023 on a high note with Wish. In the canon of recent Disney classics, Wish might not reach the heights of Tangled, Moana, or Encanto. However, it is a wonderful celebration of Disney’s century-old legacy while functioning as an engaging original story. It does so with a winning protagonist, invigorating songs, and an art style that blends the new with nostalgia.
Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose pours her heart and soul into Asha, a young woman who lives on the island of Rosas. The land is governed by King Magnifico (Chris Pine), who possesses the power to grant wishes. Only a handful of them will come true. When somebody hands their wish over to Magnifico, they give away a part of themselves that may never return. Although Magnifico appears charming, Wish quickly unveils his wicked nature, avoiding the tired surprise villain twist. In Magnifico’s eyes, he’s acting in Rosas’ best interest by blocking potentially dangerous wishes. While more complex than your average Disney antagonist, Pine still gets to partake in all of the dastardly tropes one would hope for, including a fun villain song (This Is the Thanks I Get?!).
Dave Metzger supplies Wish with a soothing score while Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice deliver a soundtrack of earworms. The battle-ready Knowing What I Know Now is sure to get viewers pumped while the haunting duet At All Costs establishes a compelling dynamic between our heroine and villain. This Wish is in the tradition of Disney’s most beloved “I Want” songs as Asha wishes upon a star. Instead of a Blue Fairy, Asha is visited by a literal star, who possesses the flair of Tinker Bell and the charm of Mickey. While the star doesn’t provide instantaneous wish fulfillment, it puts Asha on the path to making her dreams a reality. Like The Princess and the Frog, it’s a modern twist on an age-old Disney trope. The animation also bridges the past and present, mixing dreamy watercolors with the computer, picking up where the studio left off with shorts like Paperman and Feast.
Aesthetically and thematically, Disney aspires to encompass every generation of Disney animation. Directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn succeed, even if this isn’t the definitive Disney fairy tale. While many Disney hallmarks are cleverly woven into the narrative, some in-jokes are too on the nose for their own good. The humor falls short with the filmmakers over-relying on Asha’s talking goat Valentino, who just sounds like a less funny version of Alan Tudyks’ Clayface. Asha has another seven friends who mirror the seven dwarfs, although three friends would’ve been enough. There’s also a subplot involving Asha’s late father that one would expect to provide the emotional apex, but it ultimately goes nowhere.
At a crisp 95 minutes, Wish could’ve benefitted from another 10 minutes to flesh out some of these elements. On the whole, though, the film is a fitting love letter to the fans who keep coming back to the Disney wishing well. It might not break new ground like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, or Frozen. Yet, Wish does feel like the culmination of the past century, right down to the credits featuring a cavalcade of familiar characters popping up. Throw in a touching post-credits scene, and you have a crowd-pleaser that confirms the magic is still alive.