By Shannon McGrew
In a time when it feels like the world is burning to the ground, finding a glimmer of hope can feel like a daunting task. Though Disney has its own set of problems, their latest animated film, WISH, directed by the accomplished duo of Chris Buck (Frozen, Frozen 2) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (Raya and the Last Dragon) emerges as a light amidst all the darkness. Through WISH viewers can escape into an enchanting realm that’s teeming with magic and possibilities allowing a much-needed respite from the chaos of reality.
To keep spoilers at bay, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: In WISH, audiences arrive at the magical kingdom of Rosa, where Asha, a sharp-witted idealist, makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force - a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, Asha and Star confront a most formidable foe - the ruler of Rosas, King Magnifico - to save her community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.
The strength of the movie lies in both the animation style as well as the musical numbers, especially those featuring the exceptional talents of Ariana DeBose. Each musical piece showcases a pivotal moment in the story and is done in an effortless way that doesn’t take away from the non-musical elements of the film. Though each track offers something different, “Knowing What I Know Now” and “This is the Thanks I Get” emerge as standouts.
The animation style of WISH is a striking amalgamation that blends Disney’s classical animation roots with modern-day techniques. The hybrid approach might initially seem jarring - understandably so - due to the unconventional fusion. However, once your eyes adjust it’s hard not to get sucked into the breathtaking animation especially since it looks like a painting come to life. This stylistic choice might stand as the film’s most divisive aspect, eliciting both praise and criticism, but ultimately it comes down to how the viewer connects with it.
While the film celebrates Disney’s monumental impact on animation storytelling, this grand vision, unfortunately, becomes its own stumbling block. Without divulging spoilers, the abundance of narrative threads seems to overcrowd the storytelling, impacting the primary story between King Magnifico and Asha, which should have been more fleshed out. That being said, the film isn’t without its merits. Despite the bumps in the road, the gradual revelation of the film's surprise as well as exploring the significance of our “wishes” remains a captivating and thought-provoking journey.
On the flip side, what’s refreshing about WISH is its departure from the traditional Disney trope of a central romantic plotline. While previously Disney films have embraced love stories, WISH steps away from that and instead shifts to making Asha an independent figure beyond the realm of romantic companionship.
As for the voice acting, Ariana DeBose’s portrayal of Asha is remarkable as she utilizes her voice acting prowess to evoke a spectrum of emotions, grounding the character in authenticity and depth. Conversely, Chris Pine’s portrayal of the villainous King Magnifico is surprisingly fitting, so much so that his voice feels synonymous with the character.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is the always talented Alan Tudyk who shines in his portrayal of Valentino, a charming and amusing pet goat. To be honest, he was my favorite character. Additionally, Asha’s circle of friends, Dahlia (Jennifer Kumiyama), Simon (Evan Peters), Gabo (Harvey Guillén), Safi (Ramy Youseff), Hal (Niko Vargas), Bazeema (Della Saba) and Dario (Joh Rudnitsky) form a diverse and supportive group at King Magnifico’s castle. And who can forget the most important character of all, Star. Disney knew what it was doing by creating that Star and I can only imagine the adorable merch that’s to come.
While WISH grapples with some narrative stumbling blocks, it manages to shine in other ways that will captivate audiences. With strong musical numbers, striking animation, and an unexpected twist, WISH brings a certain level of magic that will delight fans and leave them grinning. In its celebration of a century of Disney magic, WISH encapsulates the essence of all the animated films that came before and will evoke a nostalgic appreciation for all Disney fans.