Wish review: Disney’s celebration has some holes

Jasmine Valentine
Asha in Disney's Wish

Though it doesn’t look older than 21, Walt Disney Studios has spent most of 2023 celebrating its 100-year anniversary. The cherry on top is Wish, a brand-new animated film that wraps everything Disney-ish together with a pretty little Minnie Mouse bow.

The idea is simple – take the core studio concept of wishing on a star and flesh it out into a 95-minute runtime, complete with songs and charming animal sidekicks. Where Disney was probably hoping to emulate the sweet satisfaction of their Mickey Mouse waffles or ice cream, the movie is more like a cinematic equivalent of cheddar cheese.

Laced with holes and probably better enjoyed when not stripped back to its core elements, Wish is neither Disney’s best nor worst outing. Young Asha (Ariana DeBose) – who isn’t, in fact, a princess, which feels like a slightly wasted nod to tradition – loves her kingdom of Rosas and is desperate to study under King Magnifico (Chris Pine), who is a sorcerer.

The people of Rosas give their wishes to the King on their 18th birthday, but Asha finds out that Magnifico has no intention of granting most of them. In an attempt to get them back, Asha gets herself into something much more complicated. It’s not an overly original process and executed without fault, but the comfort and glistening of the wonderful world of Disney remains firm.

Ticking off the Disney checklist

Disney’s Wish is as formulaic as they come – but this time, it’s consciously trying to be. In a bid to pay tribute to almost every movie the studio has ever made in under two hours, all the key ingredients for a Disney showstopper are correct and present. The hero’s journey is decorated with the catchiest tunes since Encanto, the forest comes alive with talking animals, and the villain sinks to powers so cruel that their eyes are aflame with green, just like the 90s studio cohort.

This often makes for a touching display, but the core idea is being stretched too thin to be able to be satisfying. Asha’s journey often feels hollow; while taking goat Valentino (Alan Tudyk) speaks in riddles that don’t add much of anything. That being said, Wish excels in terms of performance, with DeBose and Pine proving their singing and acting chops expertly match up.

For longtime Disney fans, Wish will no doubt be a treat to watch. There’s a plethora of Easter eggs to work through, with the studio taking a leaf out of something Pixar has always done successfully. Characters have familiar qualities, while settings and scenes pay homage to movies gone by. Asha isn’t really a fully fleshed-out persona but serves more as a “thank you” to 100 years of gifting magic.

Stretching to make the magic work

Asha in Disney's Wish

Though Wish isn’t foolproof, the magic remains ever-present. This most obviously takes the form of a wishing star, who is accidentally summoned by Asha while trying to do right by the people of Rosas. Not only is the star a merchandising cash cow waiting to get off the ground, but it encapsulates Disney on its most basic and naive level. Good can be done in the world, dreams can come true, and things will be alright with time – sometimes, we just need to be reminded, regardless of anything else.

There’s also something to be said for the animation style, which is perhaps just as jarring as the ropey plot. Simultaneously, Disney suggests that it is both trying something new and presenting something unfinished. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is different with an untrained eye, yet it seems to meld the 2D animation of the past with the ever-changing experimental 3D take of the present.

Is Asha’s journey thrilling or fulfilling in Wish? With an honest outlook, probably not. Disney has done a much better job at creating a narrative journey and getting moral messages across in the past, with this latest outing a case of resting on their laurels. Indeed, they are laurels that Disney certainly deserves to take, but it makes the overall celebration feel more superficial. That being said, nothing in the movie isn’t worth its time, with the soundtrack, performance, and feel-good factor all phoning in the effect that they need to.

Wish review score: 3/5

To mark its 100th birthday, Wish has gone in half-baked. References to the past are gleeful and overly obvious but certainly enjoyable nonetheless.

It’s worth sticking around for the performances and songs, but the overall story itself is likely to be forgotten.

Wish heads to theaters on November 22 and worldwide on November 24. Check out our other TV & Movies hubs below:

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