Disney makes the most Disney movie ever with self-referential Wish
No studio in Hollywood history has been more successful at replicating itself than Disney. The films released by Walt Disney Animation Studios (as opposed to ones by Pixar or other subsidiaries) have for years had same look and feel to them, and yet – with a few exceptions – they continue to draw in audiences because their stories are a reliably good source for family entertainment.
Their latest, Wish, has the studio pushing forward while looking back, as it’s full of references about its history. The story involves the people of the Kingdom of Rosas, which is ruled over by King Magnifico (Chris Pine), who has developed the power to take – and sometimes grant – the wishes of his subjects. Most of the people view this as beneficent, with the hopes that one day their wishes will come true.
Asha (Ariana DeBose) has grown up believing that as well, until Magnifico reveals himself to be mad with power during an interview to become his assistant. When a wish she makes upon a star gives Asha powers of her own, Magnifico does not take kindly to what he perceives as a challenge to his authority, vowing to take vengeance on her and anybody she loves.
Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, and written by Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore, the film serves up reminders of the Disney’s vast catalog throughout, in ways both explicit and subtle. They, of course, love a story about a kingdom, evil sorcerers, and young girl finding her way in the world, and by so blatantly leaning into those aspects in this film, they seem to be winking at the audience that they’re highly aware of their typical – if effective – formula.
Disney lovers will revel in the nods to other properties throughout, with classics like Dumbo, Peter Pan, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Bambi getting the most play. The filmmakers are clever about it, though, making the allusions obvious enough so that it’s clear what they’re doing, but not so overt that it feels like they’re merely relying on nostalgia to fill up the story.
The same goes for the film’s six main songs, which have a familiarity to them that’s comforting, but also stand on their own. The opening “Welcome to Rosas” mirrors “The Family Madrigal” from Encanto while still giving its own flavor, and “This Wish” is a show-stopper that ranks up there with the best songs from any Disney film.
As usual, the animation is beyond reproach, with a combination of styles used to make the whole film pop. Many scenes blend 2D and 3D as a way to pay tribute to the studio’s past and show what it is capable of currently. This is most impressive when looking at Asha, as the technique they use on her hair and her face appear to be different, making her into even more of a focal point than she already was.
The songs, and the film in general, are buoyed by the talents of DeBose. It’s been a swift rise for DeBose, from Hamilton ensemble member to Oscar winner for West Side Story, and she proves here again that she’s worthy of the showcases she’s been given. Pine is somewhat surprising casting as Magnifico, as this appears to be his first-ever singing role, but he acquits himself well in that regard. Special notice should go to Alan Tudyk, whose voice talents know no bounds, this time as Asha’s pet goat, Valentino.
Some may ding Wish for making Disney’s past movies such a big part of the new film, but the studio has never been shy about reminding people about its past works. It’s the biggest reason they remain the go-to place for great family entertainment, and this film only reinforces that idea.
Disney's Wish opens in theaters on November 22.