A young girl named Asha wishes on a star and gets a more direct answer than she bargained for when a trouble-making star comes down from the sky to join her. (from IMDB.com)
With Walt Disney's celebrated studio turning 100 years old in 2023, their animation team set out to create an animated feature that would honor the legacy of a century's worth of whimsy. Wish is the story of a girl named Asha in a small town called Rosas that is lorded over by King Magnifico who uses magic to grant the wishes of those that live there. However, not everyone's wish is granted, and those wishes that don't come to fruition are kept safe in his castle. When Asha meets the king about a possible internship, she pleads for him to grant her 100-year-old grandfather's unfulfilled wish. While it's common knowledge that only one wish is granted to someone in the town every month, she learns that Magnifico causes those who give him their wish to forget they even ever had that wish, which leaves the townspeople without purpose. Magnifico refuses to grant Asha's grandfather's wish, and the two argue, with Magnifico deciding to deny her internship. This sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Asha wishing on a star, that Star coming to earth to help her, and its magic causing all of the creatures of the forest to be able to talk.
On paper, Wish sounds like your typical Disney animated fantasy story. And it kind of is. However, with this one, Disney has gone out of its way to honor many of the films that came before it... to a rather distracting degree. For example, Asha's friends are literal stand-ins for the seven dwarfs, with each one having the trait of one of the dwarfs, having their name begin with the same letter, and even their clothing color scheme match. Some of the wishes make direct reference to other Disney movies, like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and Zootopia. And even more, there are blatant references to Sleeping Beauty, Bambi, Encanto, Frozen and while it could be a stretch, Robin Hood (There's a talking bear named John), among others. References like these are so frequent that Wish feels less like its own movie and much more like a movie built around references to the other stories. When you strip this story down to its core, there really isn't much special or engaging about it.
Worse yet, the film lacks truly endearing or memorable characters. There are some decent song and dance numbers, but none of the songs are memorable -- in a good or bad way. (Like, for me, Encanto had some really memorable songs, even if it was because some were super irritating.) The adorable star character is even just called Star, which feels a bit lazy. He kind of reminded me of the lovable pink blob Morph from Treasure Planet, but Star still felt like he was missing something. Asha is a fine central heroine for the story, but her long braided hair on one side of her head felt oddly trendy for a movie that otherwise had a Beauty and the Beast old timey town feel. She didn't seem to fit this particular movie's setting. Honestly, it made the movie feel that much more like a hodge-podge of ideas and homages -- maybe even a bit of a Frankenstein, stitched-together effort. In the end, Wish probably wouldn't necessarily be considered a bad movie... it's just... forgettable.
It also didn't help that Asha's friends (especially their voices) are kind of annoying. Maybe not quite the nerdy-kid-on-the-Polar-Express caliber of annoying, but Gabo in particular -- the equivalent of the dwarf Grumpy -- is never not annoying when he opens his mouth. Sadly, I feel like the best performance here is from Chris Pine as Magnifico. But even his character feels like a cookie cutter Disney villain. And it's sad, too, that Magnifico wasn't really all that bad of a guy at first, but he dabbles in dark magic which leads to him having a lust for power and he ends up being overcome with evil.
Wish follows the latest trend of trying to diversify the animation style. Both recent outings, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Both of which are also superior movies), went all-in on creating a unique animation style. Disney kind of goes for it, too, but fails miserably. There's a visual lightness to the character styling, with sort of a pencil outline look, but in the end, it often just feels unfinished... more like a big step backward in the advancement of animation. It's to the point where some characters almost have dead eyes or look especially "fake" with slow blinking or lifeless expressions. My guess is they were attempting to give the modern day computer animation a hint of the old school hand-drawn look, but I don't think it works here. If anything, they probably have should have gone full-on with either detailed computer animation, or an old school hand-drawn look.
The content would probably have earned the movie a G rating decades ago, but the PG rating is more appropriate. Still, the content isn't very strong. Violence is minimal, but during the climax, many characters' lives are threatened, and many are restrained by Magnifico's dark magic. Even Asha gets tossed around a bit. (But the town of Rosas go full Care Bear Stare to save the day, which is a whole nother level of corny here.) Probably the most sensitive content would be the magical elements itself. For starters, Magnifico learned how to handle wishes by studying magic and practicing sorcery. And when he finds himself losing control of the town, he explores dark magic and starts consuming peoples' wishes to feed his lust for power. It's a tragic sight, too, since Magnifico wasn't all evil from the start - like most Disney villains seem to be - and it isn't until Asha shakes things up that he starts down that slippery slope of evil sorcery.
For a movie trying to honor a century-long legacy, Wish is a weak effort. It's a relatively harmless Disney outing in that it's more so a color-by-number Disney animated musical fairytale, but its blandness and ordinary nature make it feel more sophomoric than triumphant. With Disney's poor choices in recent years, as well as a string of lackluster projects, Wish is more worrisome for the future than honoring something great. It makes me wish for bigger and better things in this studio's future.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 1/23/24)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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