Disney animated musicals have made achievements and advanced breakthroughs in visual storytelling since 1923. So, to celebrate its centennial anniversary, the studio honors its legacy with Wish, an all-new animated musical that tells the origin story of the Wishing Star.
The result is a soaring tribute that’s fresh and original while feeling classic. The timeless story of the power that one wish holds, selflessness, discovering the strength of your inner voice, and community are emotionally resonating, while its seven songs are engaging. All of that makes Wish the perfect film to celebrate 100 years of an iconic studio while also looking forward to the future.
Wish opens with its storybook opening, a recurring theme found in similar Disney animated films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. The sequence, narrated by Asha (Ariana DeBose), who also serves as the film’s heroine, tells us the tragic story of how King Magnficio (Chris Pine), a wise and powerful man, escaped tragedy when he saw what greed and corruption can do to a community. He sets out to build the Kingdom of Rosas, a fantastical island off the Iberian Peninsula. There, he learned everything about magic and how to use it to grant people’s wishes. And people came. And then more people came. Soon, it would be a thriving community where people would give up their wishes, portrayed as glistening blue bubbles, to the confident and charming king, who promises to keep their wishes safe until he can grant one someday. Their entrustment means they don’t have to struggle with the difficult journey of making their wish come true or the disappointment of it not coming true. So he is taking the pain of a wish not being fulfilled away.
We then meet Asha, a sharp-witted and outspoken 17-year-old idealist who cares about her community. She looks forward to becoming king’s apprentice because she believes she shares the same benevolence as he does. Her sense of selflessness drives her to do what is right for Rosas. It’s a quality that goes into overdrive when she discovers that King Magnifico doesn’t grant all the wishes given to him, especially the ones he misconstrues as ones that could threaten his power. Asha believes King Magnifico should give the wishes he didn’t grant back to their rightful owner so that they could pursue it for themselves. However, King Magnifico refuses to relinquish them because if he does so, that means he won’t be glorified as the king who grants wishes. So King Maginfico mistakes his wish granting as benevolence and sees wishes as mere ideas that are easily forgotten. So he keeps these bubbles in his observatory located high above the Kingdom of Rosas. Whereas Asha believes in the good of the people of Rosas and that their wishes are as good as they are, so they deserve the right to remember the best part of themselves and pursue their wish.
So Asha makes a wish to the stars in a moment of need after sensing a darkness in the Kingdom of Rosas that no one else does. And the cosmic forces answer her by sending her Star. The ball of boundless energy reminds her about the power of her inner voice and never to give up, even if the odds are against her. While a bit of magic goes a long way, holding on to hope and staying optimistic reminds us that the possibilities to find the answer are out there.
The concept of looking to the skies and wishing on a star is anything but new, but Lee and Moore’s script modernizes the sentiment with heart and honesty. While the film reminds us that there is no greater power than a true wish in someone’s heart, it understands that simply looking to the stars isn’t enough because the greater the wish, the more arduous the journey is to make it come true. That honesty is refreshing and reflective of the world that we live in today. Simply wishing for something to come true doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. Buck and Veersunthorn also want to remind us that our deepest wishes are a part of us and should be shared with the world, not contained like a secret where if you tell your wish, it doesn’t come true, because those within your circle could help you make that wish come true.
Aside from rewriting some of those rules, Wish reflects the past and is a guiding light toward the future of the iconic studio that has set the standard for innovation, storytelling, and music. All that history is woven into the film’s tapestry, from its storybook opening sequence to how it blends different generations of achievements and advancements in hand-drawn and CG animation. The different styles come in and out in waves so organically. The visual watercolor storybook stylings are brought to life through CG animation.
There are elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty that come into play from Disney animation’s early days. The technology used to turn Maui’s 2D tattoo as a character in Moana and the earlier shorts like Paperman, Feast, and Far from Tree reflect the studio’s patience to get the blend of 2D and CG animation right. And the enhancing graphic effects creates a visual style that fits into that world, while also serving as a tribute to the watercolor stylings found in films like Pinocchio. So expect to find a few nods to their legacy whether that’s through the songs, talking animals, and frightening villain using dark magic to some of the more subtle ones that are hidden in the background or dialogue. It all makes for something that must be experienced in a theater to see the richness and depth of the film.
The representation in Wish is beautiful because it allows other people of color to see themselves in Asha. She is idealistic and sharp-witted teenager. She has freckles and braided hair. It’s a look that inspires generations because there’s also a little kid with freckles and braided hair who believes they can be just as courageous and vulnerable as Asha. And DeBose brings so much physicality to the role of Asha, which can be seen during some of the musical numbers where a lot of dancing and running is involved. What’s more, her bold act in challenging King Magnifico turns her into an activist. So while she may not have all the answers, she has to turn to the night sky just as she did with her father for the answers she is looking for. And just like magic, the cosmic forces answer her by sending her Star.
Star provides much of that magic, which undoubtedly sparks hope and joy for our heroine. As a visitor on Earth, Star’s curiosity and playfulness bring about so much happiness around its orbit and can be a source of trouble. But its actions have no malice as it sees the good in things, which explains why it answered Asha’s call. So the pantomime character will win so many of the audience’s hearts as it casts its magic to help Asha and give a voice to Valentino (Alan Tudyk), a yellow-pajama-wearing goat who wishes that he could talk. And Star represents why we make wishes in the first place and the unwavering persistence to pursue them.
Grammy®-nominated singer-songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer-songwriter-musician Benjamin Rice’s songs are just as stunning as the beautiful animation and timeless storytelling. Their seven songs pave the emotional trajectory and provide the necessary context to push the story forward and conveys what the characters are feeling at that moment. From the introductory “Welcome to Rosas,” a song that will surely get you to sing and dance, and the affirmation “I’m a Star” to the inspirational “This Wish” and “At All Costs,” a song that will surely connect with parents. The dance choreography that went into each makes these musical numbers even more beautiful.
What makes Wish so special, aside from being a culmination of all the historic and groundbreaking achievements and advancements in visual storytelling, is that it is film with so much heart and spirit to give to a world in desperate need of some hope. It doesn’t erase the cynicism and pain of the world but recognizes that there are complexities to certain situations. And while it may not have all of the answers, that sort of recognition is brutally honest and yet comforting at the same time. As such, Wish gives us the hope and inspiration needed to face insurmountable obstacles head on, knowing that we had the courage to take on such challenges whether we fail or succeed at overcoming them.