With its easter eggs and fascinating animation style, Wish is undoubtedly a fitting tribute to Disney’s 100th anniversary.
2023 marked Disney’s 100th anniversary and what better film to celebrate it than the studio’s newest animated movie, Wish? As a film that sets out to celebrate this milestone anniversary and the first big animated Disney release after the success of Encanto two years ago, I was very much looking forward to a return to Disney iconic animated features. At my screening, many kids sat in the cinema enthralled by the scenes on the big screen, which was a beautiful reminder of how these new Disney animated films will become classics for an entirely new generation in the coming years.
Wish is set in the fictional Kingdom of Rosas, located somewhere unspecified in the Mediterranean Sea, which was founded by King Magnifico (Chris Pine), known for his ability to grant the wishes of his subjects, and his wife Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral) long before the film begins. The movie follows 17-year-old Asha (Ariana DeBose), and her loyal companion the goat Valentino (Alan Tudyk), as she prepares to interview for the position of apprentice to King Magnifico. But things are not always as they look and, as the film goes on, Asha discovers a darkness in the Kingdom that nobody else sees. Now Asha will do anything to change this and make the lives of everyone living in Rosas better.
Wish follows the classic successful Disney formula of pairing a young female protagonist with a funny talking animal sidekick. Maybe it is not anything original or new in this sense, but there is a reason why it has been used for so many years and keeps being used: it simply works. This does not mean that the film remains simple or surface level as it is able to explore the complexities that come with its story. A lot of this film indeed plays into a sense of Disney nostalgia and previously successful formula, but does a movie always necessarily need to be groundbreaking? Wish offers us a beautiful story nonetheless, one that is very much in tune with Disney’s iconic style.
Wish works well as a tribute to Disney not only through the many easter eggs but also because its very own premise calls back to one of Disney’s core concepts of wishing upon a star. The plot of the film is very much inspired by the common thread across films by the studio of characters wishing upon stars, much like Asha does in this film. While this movie is a celebration of all that Disney stands for, it also succeeds in creating a new fairytale that can stand on its own and represent the origin story of the now well-known wishing story.
Asha is very much her own unique character within the Disney canon, even if she did remind me of some other Disney princesses, thus once again playing into the nostalgia element that Wish keeps coming back to. Asha stands out as her wish is not for herself but for the good of her community, which can make her an excellent role model for young people to look up to. Unlike many other Disney protagonists as well, Asha is not nor does not eventually become a princess, which I found refreshing as we finally get to see a protagonist that is truly part of the common folk.
Much like Elsa in Frozen and Merida in Brave, but unlike many other Disney heroines, Asha’s plot does not revolve around finding a partner or getting a love interest, and this makes Wish one of the few Disney films that do not feature a romance plot in the entirety of its story. Instead, we get to see her relationship with her family, and friends, and with her whole kingdom. On this note, I do wish her relationship with her friends, and her entire friends group, was explored more, as they play a key role in Wish. The latter is particularly significant as I found it beautiful to that Asha is not afraid to ask for help and succeeds partially thanks to her loved ones’ help.
Asha is an incredibly strong character that I loved seeing as the face of Disney’s centennial anniversary: it is very refreshing to see Frozen. Seeing a protagonist designed with braids in the biggest Disney movie of the year is incredibly important and such a step forward in terms of representation. It may seem irrelevant but I can’t help but think of all the little girls who will see themselves in Asha when they watch Wish, which probably could not have happened some years ago.
If Asha is the heart of the film, and so is DeBose’s incredible performance as the lead character in Wish, King Magnifico is part of its soul. As this seemingly kind-hearted king quickly turns into a powerful villain, the film is a cautionary tale of the effects that too much power can have on people as well as a much-necessary reminder of the dangers of this charming and narcissistic villain. I also thought that King Magnifico, brilliantly portrayed in all its multi-faceted allure by Chris Pine, was an interesting reflection of how systems of oppression and control can operate.
The use of animation is also very impressive in Wish in a style that mixes the traditional hand-drawn aesthetic that the very first Disney cartoons are known for with the computer technology of today. I loved seeing the watercolour storybook aesthetic coming back in this film, reminding us of where everything started. At the same time, this is paired well with three-dimensional characters that visually fit the background they move in. In terms of style, Wish also reminds us that sometimes simplicity is better: the design for the star is quite basic but that is precisely why it works.
Wish offers us a look back to the past and the history that made Disney films the iconic and heartfelt products we know and love. Much like Disney in general, this film celebrates the power of wishing but it does not hold back from portraying the difficulties that we may encounter in making our dreams come true: while it may be difficult and we may need help, Disney once again reminds us that joy and hope can be achieved, and both are worth all the hardship.
Wish will open globally in theaters on November 22, 2023. Read our article on the Disney references in Wish: do they feel cynical or sincere?