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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Reel Thoughts: ‘Wish’ lacks Disney’s magical spark

Illustration by Shveta Shah
“Wish” pays homage to many Disney films and characters from the last 100 years.

Many Disney characters have wished upon stars. The latest one to do so is Asha, the protagonist of Disney’s latest animated feature: “Wish,” a commemoration of the entertainment company’s 100th anniversary. 

Asha makes her wish during the film’s central song, which fulfills its role as her dramatic “I Want” number. Unfortunately, the powerhouse vocals of Ariana DeBose, who voices Asha, aren’t enough to stop the song from feeling somewhat one-note. The song is emblematic of the film as a whole: a picture-perfect repetition of the Disney formula lacking in magic touch. 

Like the older films it emulates, “Wish,” released Nov. 22, begins with the opening of a storybook. The tale is set in the fictional Mediterranean kingdom of Rosas, which is designed with a pleasant blend of 3D computer-generated imagery and 2D watercolors in a modernized update to hand-drawn animation. 

Unlike Disney’s last few films, “Wish” also has a straightforward villain in King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), who refuses to grant most of the wishes his subjects give up to him out of fear that he will lose his power. 

Asha, dissatisfied with Magnifico, makes her own wish (upon a star!). The star descends to join her in anthropomorphic form as she embarks on an adventure to retrieve her family’s wishes and save Rosas. Hijinks ensue, complete with talking animals, butt jokes and multiple musical numbers.

In the end, everyone lives happily ever after. This plot should sound familiar because “Wish” is so obediently committed to the Disney formula that it doesn’t have its own story. 

Like Mulan, Moana and other Disney heroines, Asha is loyal and headstrong. Unlike those heroines, she is a flat character, with no lessons to learn or inner demons to overcome. Pine pulls off Magnifico’s transition from welcoming to intimidating, but Asha’s trials and tribulations still don’t feel urgent. The inevitable Disneyfied happy ending only reminds us that we’re watching a 90-minute-long self-advertisement meant to evoke memories of older, better films. 

Many of those films were filled with iconic, instantly recognizable songs, but the songs in “Wish” are plain and unmemorable. Writers Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice occasionally attempt to emulate Lin-Manuel Miranda’s clever, toe-tapping “Encanto” numbers, but the results feel tonally inconsistent. The lyrics are strained and lacking in wit. 

Take the line, “When it comes to the universe we’re all shareholders,” from “I’m a Star” as an example. The word choice is awkward but oddly fitting now that Disney has seemingly made us all mere shareholders in its century-long effort to take over the universe. 

Over the decades, Disney’s best films have been technologically innovative and emotionally resonant. Disney still makes these films, but it has prioritized building easily marketable franchises to the point that we sometimes mistake references to greatness for greatness itself. 

It makes sense that “Wish” feels less like the classic films it references and more like many of Disney’s live-action remakes: It’s okay on its own, but compared to what came before, it’s little more than a pale imitation. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @edwardsimoncruz

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