On a lone Mediterranean island, the haven of Rosas was formed. Ruled by a powerful sorcerer king, Magnifico [Pine], the citizens give up their one true wish, in exchange for protection. But, during a special ceremony, one lucky citizen gets their wish granted. Asha [DeBose], a young girl aspiring to become the king’s next apprentice, is keen to have her elderly grandfather’s wish granted but, the closer she gets to the king, the more she uncovers a dark secret.
Milestones are arbitrary markers that we assign. Know what a decade marks? Nothing really. In terms of art, fashion, food, culture and design, it’s neither a fresh start nor a hard stop. So, just because Disney has been making animations for 100 years doesn’t mean this film has to carry any specific weight. Which is good because Wish is remarkably bland. In fact, there’s a rather interesting comparison here. Specifically regarding contemporary internet slang that comes to deriding the company wish.com as shorthand for “I ordered a premium item but what arrived was a cheap and broken knock off.” Pause for eyebrow raise and dramatic effect.
Disney clawed their way out of a slump in the 2000s, and thanks to Tangled and Frozen, they paved the way for huge hits like Moana and Encanto. But part of what made these releases so good was their ability to challenge the expectations Disney had set for themselves, as well as distancing these releases from established stories that had grown stale. All while still embodying the themes and spectacle that fans hope for from a big Disney release. Wish feels like the tail-end of that evolution. They’ve taken the premise as far as they can and what felt fresh in 2010, now seems predictable. And while the art style is striking, it’s not going to be to everyone’s liking. It’s novel in principal but in practice, the characters sit off the backgrounds in a somewhat jarring fashion.
Stepping away from the visuals, let’s talk sound. Or more specifically, the songs. Again, what once felt innovative and different is starting to outstay its welcome. And, in truth, there are two major problems with the songs used throughout this movie. Firstly, what we have here are more pop songs than musical numbers, which leaves a lot of the tunes generic and forgettable. Granted, Knowing What I Know Now is probably the film’s most interesting song but still not a good fit. But if we take At All Costs for example. This is a prime example of a love song in a movie with no romance angle. But Disney decided they still needed to tick that box so instead we get a song with lyrics like “If someone tried to hurt you, I don’t see how that could happen, I’d fight for you in ways you can’t imagine” and “If you’re ever feeling like you’re lost, I’ll come find you—there’s no ocean I won’t swim across to be right by you” directed at the wishes themselves. Which falls so unbelievably flat.
And this leads us to the next problem. The lyrics of the songs aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. A song is meant to be more than a musical interlude, it’s the apex, the crescendo of the emotional build. Yes, there’s a bit of exposition but it’s there to reinforce the ideas we’re already familiar with. Is your lead unsure of the path they’ll take, sing about it to come to a conclusion. You’ll be able to draw on what we’ve seen thus far and feel an emotional connection with the song itself. Or maybe your villain is preparing to enact their twisted machinations. Now’s the time to show how over the top and devilish they can be, while selling their charm and allure. And, on the surface, the songs in Wish do this. Until you look a little closer.
I didn’t mention it in my opening synopsis but having discovered that King Magnifico is hoarding people’s wishes, Asha makes her own wish, this time upon a star. And this causes said star to fall from the sky and become her ally. Its first act is to anthropomorphise plants and make animals talk. But then a song comes along to explain what’s happening. Only it doesn’t. I’m A Star is easily one of the most confused and confusing songs, completely failing to provide further context or emotional connection. It’s just a lot of animals singing at Asha with a “if you don’t get it, don’t worry” attitude.
But we’ve spent long enough on the songs, we need to talk about the characters. In truth, there are two. Three at a push. You have Asha in the lead, popped entirely from the Disney handbook of quirks. Now, I’ll admit, I wasn’t as put off by this portrayal. I thought DeBose brought a lot of charm and presence into her performance and a range that you don’t often get from those who aren’t familiar with voice acting. I’m gonna chalk that up to her theatre background. The ambiguous third character is a talking goat called Valentino, voiced by Alan Tudyk. Now, Tudyk maybe a master craftsman but there’s only so much he can do with mediocre dialogue solely wheeled out as punch-up.
And then there’s Chris Pine. Pine’s performance is fine and he’s clearly enjoying the opportunity to be a moustache-twirling villainous rogue. But the king himself is such an oddity. This may be considered a bit of a spoiler but, from the outset it’s not entirely clear what the king is doing with the wishes, or how they make him powerful. Again, based on that questionable song and lyric writing, even by the time we get to his big villain number, we still don’t understand why they’re so important. This is even more frustrating when Magnifico comes to realise the wishes can be harvested as a power source. So, why has he been hoarding them before now? To ensure a docile public? To create subservience? Maybe but why? His parent’s kingdom was destroyed but we never get a clear explanation of how he went from “some people want to destroy what others build” to “I’m going to harvest wishes and keep them in a vault like Scrooge McDuck.”
Overall there’s very little nuance, subtlety or complexity. Just a really straightforward A to B story. This is likely because the film is more preoccupied with Easter eggs than legitimate engagement. It was the creator’s intention to go beyond merely acknowledging previous films, and instead actively feature enchanted pens drawing the Mickey logo, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins name checks, or even Asha’s incredibly underwritten friends being doubles for the seven dwarfs. And if you’re hoping for a clever or thrilling conclusion, you’ll be disappointed as the movie’s solution to combatting King Magnifico is a musical refrain. That’s not me being vague. That’s it. Sure it’s supposed to be self-believe or unity or the power of friendship maybe? But the mechanic is singing, because when you play it so safe and formulaic – to the point of stagnation – that’s all you have left.
Wish is an entirely frustrating movie that is overly simplistic, paper thin and apathy-inducing to the point of soulless. A story preoccupied with so many whats while exploring very few hows and even fewer whys. Leaving the only real question on the audience’s collective mind: “Why bother?”
24 November 2023
The Scene To Look Out For:
Less one scene and more an under-baked concept. This movie struggles with the ideas of good and evil. To explain, the movie explicitly states that to embrace forbidden magic once, means it takes hold for all eternity. That’s not a moral quandary, that’s an absolute. One which means the king is beyond redemption. Which I wouldn’t be opposed to if I understood the reasons behind his actions. See, the king implies certain wishes could harm the kingdom but that’s never explored. In fact, every wish we’re shown is perfect and pure. Which is also bizarre because it implies Rosas is an idyllic utopia solely because it’s inhabited by a populace devoid of selfish wishes. Take Asha’s grandfather for example. His wish is to create something that will inspire future generations. And we’re led to believe that it’s a song. By the end of the movie. Guess what, it’s just that he wants people to like his music. Or people to hear him play. That’s it. But they didn’t go for Asha or her dad being the wish? The one thing that he could wish for that cold inspire future generations he had all along? Yeah, it’s cheesy but.. this is Disney.
The star character is very bad. To say a character in a Disney film has been created solely for the purposes of merchandise isn’t the most cutting revelation. But the mute star here is an odd addition to the film. In terms of abilities and usefulness, its quite erratic. Clearly very powerful (because King Magnifico wants it) but not in an applicable way that would actually help Asha. Until the story remembers to do something like creating a magic wand. Again, a byproduct of rushing in without stress-testing any of this material.
“Why would you want me to know a wish that can never be?”
In A Few Words:
“An entirely vacuous release with very few redeeming features”
Total Score: 1/5