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Wish (2023)

Every film or series deserves to be reviewed on its own merits. However, sometimes it can be hard to divorce them from external factors such as the circumstances surrounding their release. Walt Disney Animation Studios's latest feature Wish is one such release. The film arrived at the tail end of a historically poor year for Disney, where even usually reliable money-makers like Marvel (excluding Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3) and Indiana Jones had underperformed. Against that background, Wish had a lot of expectations placed upon it. Not only that, but the film had the added pressure of being the big Disney centenary film, that was intended to celebrate the studio's 100th anniversary. The film went on to gross $254 million worldwide, against a budget thought to be between $175-200 million, becoming one of Disney's rare flops.

Wish was animated by Walt Disney Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It was directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn. The screenplay is by WDAS creative chief Jennifer Lee and Alison Moore. It features the voices of Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Jennifer Kumiyama, Harvey GuillĂ©n, Evan Peters, Ramy Youssef, and more. The songs are penned by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice. The film premiered on November 8, 2023 at the El Capitan in Hollywood.

The film takes place on the fictional island of Rosas, off the Iberian peninsula, where The Kingdom was founded by King Magnifico and Queen Amaya. After studying the art of sorcery, Magnifico is able to grant his subjects their heart's desire. Once a month he chooses one subject's wish to be granted in a grand ceremony. In the present day 17-year-old Asha prepares to interview to become Magnifico's latest assistant, hoping to get her 100-year-old grandfather Sabo's wish granted. Later, Asha makes her own wish upon a star- and is surprised when it falls from the sky.

Much has been made of the visual style. The animation is a combination of Disney's normal modern CG style and a more watercolour, painterly effect found in their classic films. In execution it is quite a subtle difference. It no doubt works better on the big screen, but watched at home (even on a decent sized screen) it doesn't really look all that radically different from any other Disney movie. Don't get me wrong: it still looks good. The designs are wonderful, and the animation is first rate. But it's no radical reinvention. Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse it ain't.

As the big 'Disney 100' film, Wish is made in part to be a tribute to the Studio's past and present. Wishing on a star is a very important part of that history. Not only did it feature in the classic Pinnochio, and later The Princess and The Frog, but to this day, When You Wish Upon A Star is the tune that plays over the Disney logo. This film is kind of an 'origin story' for the star itself, which imagines it as a living being. The film is also littered with references to past Disney films- on screen and in dialogue and song lyrics. Some of them are pretty subtle- like characters dressed like the mice out of Sleeping Beauty. It reportedly contains more than 100 easter eggs, so the film definitely encourages repeat viewings.

In a number of ways, Wish is more traditional than some of Dinsey's other recent films. Asha is not technically a princess, but this is definitely a modern fairy tale. It also gives us our first full-blown villain for a while, and they even get a villain's song (or two). The character's villainous turn is treated like a twist, so I won't give it way- but you can almost certainly guess who it is.

The voice cast is also uniformly excellent, led by Ariana DeBose as Asha who is surely born to play a Disney princess. WDAS's good luck charm Alan Tudyk is very funny as Asha's talking pet goat Valentino. Best of all is Chris Pine as Magnifico, hamming it up and clearly having the time of his life.

Michaels and Rice's original songs may not be quite up there with the classics, but they're still pretty good and often catchy. There's- appropriately- something of a Spanish influence on some of the songs. Standout tracks are This Is The Thanks I Get?! and Knowing What I Know Now. The score by David Metzger is also excellent.

Watching the film months after its original release, you'll be wondering why did Wish underperform? Is it simply because it's a bad film? Well, no- the Disney machine is too well-tuned, and the people behind it too talented to let that happen. On paper, all the elements are there for another Disney classic. But somehow it's just missing that extra spark, that extra something to elevate it from merely good to great. It just doesn't have that magic.

We'll probably never know why audiences didn't connect with Wish. Maybe it'll find a second life on Disney Plus (early streaming figures are encouraging) and Blu-Ray and DVD. Don't let the film's low box-office tally put you off. There's still a lot of fun to be had here, especially if you're a big Disney fan.



In A Nutshell

A fun spin on fairy tales- but we can't help but wish it had a little extra magic.