To celebrate its 100th year, Disney releases the new animated feature ‘Wish,’ which oddly enough stumbles and flounders at its beginning, weighted down by a muddled world building exercise before it finds its stride. While a lot of the movie doesn’t explore new territory, what does feel fresh is how the movie double downs on Disney’s continuous attempt to cater to a more progressive audience and how ‘Wish’ seems to champion the voices of dissent. There is a strong sense of a revolutionary tone that is pervasive throughout the film that feels new and surprising. It manages to find its magic at its finale that managed to send shivers down my spine and got me genuinely teary-eyed.
The film, directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn and written by Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore, is about the fictional city of Rosas, on an island “deep in the Mediterranean Sea,” whose king is a sorcerer who can grant wishes. There is a mix and mash of different cultures at play here as the mystical nature of Rosas has made it a melting pot of various cultures that seems to just blend and mix so unnaturally well. The sorcerer king, Magnifico, and his wife, Queen Amaya, have made a haven for its people. Magnifico asks everyone for their wishes, and he keeps them safe and protects them while he grants some of them and makes them true.
But a young girl, Asha, discovers a dark secret. Not all the wishes that Magnifico keeps and protects will ever be granted. This utopian city is nothing more but a falsehood, buying into a veneer of niceties. It’s an autocracy in disguise and everyone is a willing victim, with their wishes held hostage for their compliance.
In a fit of rage and disgust, Asha wishes upon a star and the star magically appears before her and starts to make enchant the world around her.
Essentially, ‘Wish’ is an exploration on the nature and importance of wishes into our lives. The movie sells it hard, and it does not go unnoticed that it’s definitely part and parcel of a propaganda to continue to entrench Disney into our lives, what with all the easter eggs of various Disney cartoons and stories placed generously around the film. It can even serve as a sort of origin story for many of Disney’s animated feature if you catch the motifs at play.
In trying to explain this new world and how it operates, the first half of ‘Wish’ comes across as long and drawn-out exposition. There’s so much talking, not much showing. There’s just so much explaining. It slows everything down and it made the kids in the audience disengage at the start. The moment Asha sings the title song, ‘This Wish,’ and the star comes down and starts to stir trouble, then the film starts to find its footing.
And this when the magic really starts to happen. There’s an interesting new perspective offered in the song ‘I’m a Star’ that becomes a fulcrum to the film’s extraordinary message that is later compounded by more songs and story points that pushes the film to take a revolutionary tone. The film actually incites the viewers to dissent against any sort of mind-control or oppression. The extremely charming (and rather media savvy King Magnifico) starts to show his spots and while all of this is sort of on-the-nose, it effectively sells the idea that the world we live in is not that far behind.
Chris Pine is excellent and charming as Magnifico, singing and acting his way through the character with his voice that it helps create a person we want to be brought down. Pine’s Magnifico is every gaslighting, overprotective, and narcissist leader who charms us out of our ability to choose for ourselves. He is an excellent counterpoint to a very solid performance from Arianna DeBose, who kills it as Asha. She sings with such fervor that it helps sell the Disney magic so much more.
When the film fully pushes for a revolution against the autocracy, it’s akin to a ‘Les Misérables’ chorus that can be infectious. Surprisingly, despite all of the things I didn’t like about the film at the beginning, I began to see the beauty of its message and its stance. Yes, ‘Wish’ is as much a celebration of Disney and all its capitalist stance but, at the same time, ‘Wish’ is also a call to find it within us to fight for what we love and what we believe in.
And it does this in a way that Disney has perfected over its 100 years – through spectacle and song. ‘Wish’ is not the best Disney movie but it is wonderfully idealistic and unabashedly progressive and during these times of severe conflict and strife, it is a welcome message of hope. There’s something right in the timing of this movie and as I held back tears at the reprise of its titular song, I was actually excited to see where Disney will continue bringing their stories in the future.