Film Review: Wish

Film Reviews

Directors: Chris Buck, Fawn Veerasunthorn

Walt Disney Animation Studios
In Theaters: 11.22 

Even in the age of both The Disney Channel and Disney+ coming right to your home, a new animated feature from the House of Mouse is always a bit of an event. In the case of Wish, which is specifically intended to cap off the studio’s 100th Anniversary year, the significance is even more pronounced, for better or for worse.  

The kingdom of Rosas is ruled by the beloved King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine of Star Trek and Wonder Woman), a powerful sorcerer who can make wishes come true. When each citizen comes of age, a ceremony is held wherein they give up their wish to Magnifico, who keeps these magical manifestations hidden away in his observatory. A young woman named Asha (Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose, West Side Story) is interviewing to become the new apprentice to the King. When the meeting doesn’t go as planned, Asha takes a walk in the woods and finds herself resorting to the old-fashioned method of wishing under the night sky, making it a special and unselfish wish. Asha’s wish summons a magical ball of light known as Star. This new friend not only spreads magic everywhere, giving the power of speech to all of the animals of the forest, it becomes an ally in Asha’s quest to bring about a wish that will usher in a new era of happiness and joy for all of Rosas—as long as no one stands in their way.

Wish is a fanciful, energetic and joyous musical fantasy that is perhaps just a bit too preoccupied with its mission to celebrate the Disney legacy. The Easter eggs referencing a century of animated classics start coming at the audience so quickly that it develops the same kind of mix of fan service and commercial advertisement that we’re used to from a Marvel movie, and at times that dynamic threatens to overpower the simple task of telling a good story. Fortunately, the formula comes together just enough to make Wish a highly satisfying family viewing experience. Chris Buck (Frozen, Tarzan) and first-time co-director Fawn Veerasunthorn give the animation a visual style that’s a deliberate throwback to a two-dimensional, hand-drawn look, though it’s still clearly done using computers. It’s a choice that is a bit sketchy (no pun intended) when it looks less than convincing, though when it does, it really does add a sense of nostalgia and timelessness that serves the movie well. 

DeBose is a powerhouse performer, and she brings a sense of power, joy and love to both the dialogue and the songs that could carry the movie by itself. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to, and fans of Pine are going to love seeing him finally get a musical feature that gives him a chance to show off his pipes with multiple Broadway-style showstoppers. Alan Tudyk (Firefly, A Knight’s Tale), who has appeared in every Disney Animation Studios film since Wreck It Ralph, is a scene stealer as Valentino, a goat who becomes a sidekick to Asha, and Victor Garber (Titanic, Alias, Happiest Season) is endlessly endearing as Sabino, Asha’s 100-year-old grandfather. The biggest surprise among this all-star cast is Angelique Cabral (Life in Pieces) as Queen Amaya, Magnifico’s better half. Cabral’s commanding singing voice and the layers of characterization she brings to Amaya are truly one of the strongest elements of the film, and she deserves to get a major career boost from it.

Wish has a bit of trouble standing on its own as a film thanks to the choice to quite literally reach for the stars in creating a grand, centennial celebration—and yes, it’s blatant promotion in the finest and most shameless Disney tradition. It’s still a dream come true in terms of entertainment value and warmth. Wish is a magical must for die-hard fans of all ages, and it’s as much fun as I’ve had at the movies all year. –Patrick Gibbs

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