Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the majority of 2023, you’re likely aware that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company. From McDonald’s Happy Meal toys to the TikTok Disney Hub and synergy plays across the company – everywhere you look, Disney logos have been replaced by Disney100 icons instead.
The company has put together some very sweet promotional materials, but the biggest of these comes in the form of – a full-blown feature film?
“Wish” might be a Disney movie, but it’s certainly not destined to be a classic. As the studio’s attempt to celebrate its 100th anniversary, it’s very evident that more effort was put into making this a self-serving victory lap celebrating the company’s legacy rather than a worthwhile film in its own right.
Set in the magical kingdom of Rosas, “Wish” introduces Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose) on the verge of her 18th birthday. In Rosas, the wonderful and magical King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) has created an idyllic world for his subjects, filled with everything they could ever want through the power of wishes. On every citizen’s 18th birthday, they present their greatest wish to King Magnifico – taking the weight of this desire off their shoulders and allowing them to forget it entirely – and once a month the king grants someone’s wish, making their dreams come true. Magnifico positions it as a win-win for his people – they don’t have to be dragged down by the disappointment of pursuing their dream, but they still get a chance to have that wish come true.
But when Asha makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force – a little ball of boundless energy called Star, Magnifico’s seemingly altruistic nature disappears. Together, Asha and Star must work to save Rosas from the power-hungry king as he embraces dark magic to maintain control.
“Wish” feels less like a standalone film and more like a Disney tribute. Everywhere you look, there’s a nod to some other Disney property, a wink to the classics. It’s like they gathered the entire Disney catalog, put it in a blender, and hoped there’d be enough nostalgia and good will to carry the film to success. The result? A half-baked, amalgamated mess that feels more like a checklist than a coherent narrative.
Clocking in at just 95 minutes, the brief runtime is appreciated, but it comes at great cost to the story itself. It’s like they hit fast forward to wrap everything up in a neat little bow. The abrupt third act left no time to savor the evil or feel the consequences leading up to the film’s climax. It’s a rushed conclusion that leads to the stakes never feeling high enough and the resolution less than satisfying.
When it comes to the forced Disney100 marketing, there’s even a post-credit scene that feels like a final jab to the ribs. After the credits roll, there’s a snippet of Asha’s grandfather, whose wish revolved around entertaining people and playing the guitar, finally strums the strings, and what do you hear? “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Subtle, right?
Chris Pine steps into the villainous role, and yes, he brings some classic Disney villain charm, but the character feels underbaked. We get glimpses of evil, but it’s never fully realized, which robs the character of the depth and menace we’ve come to expect from Disney antagonists. With Pine’s level of charisma, there was a chance for a Scar-level baddie, throwing it back to “The Lion King,” but the result fell short, no matter how hard Pine may have tried. Another bright spot in the cast comes thanks to Alan Tudyk’s Valentino, Asha’s talking goat sidekick. Tudyk is essentially recycling his character Clayface from “Harley Quinn,” just a bit toned down, but his voice acting adds a touch of fun to the proceedings.
The animation style is definitely a high point here, blending watercolor storybook-style art with computer generation. It’s visually interesting, and there’s a certain charm to the way the different animation styles come together, combining 3D and 2D elements. This is one area where Disney’s insistent references to the studio’s past pays off, with the visuals creating a meeting of past and present animation styles.
As far as the film’s musical numbers go, they’re there, they’re fine, but there’s nothing that’s going to make you burst into spontaneous song in the shower. No “Let It Go” or “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” level bangers to be found. The tunes serve their purpose in the moment, but they don’t stick with you after the credits roll. The highlight is the ensemble call to action number “Knowing What I Know Now,” but most of the music attempts to channel a Lin-Manuel Miranda-esque pace of lyricism that just misses the mark without his brain at the helm.
In the end, “Wish” falls victim to its own ambitions. Instead of crafting a memorable story for Disney’s 100th anniversary, Disney opted for a self-congratulatory parade of references and nods.”Wish” could have been something special, but it’s ultimately a forgettable footnote in the vast Disney catalog.
If you’re in the mood for a trip down memory lane, go watch the classics, not a tribute to them.
“Wish” releases in theaters Wednesday, November 22, 2023.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.