Cliff Edwards’ 1940s song, “When You Wish Upon A Star,” has been the overall spirit mantra of Disney. Its notes are at the beginning of every feature, cruise line, and theme park. It is there to invoke a sense of childlike wonder throughout the existence of the company itself. Within celebrating its 100th anniversary, we all can share many stories that have inspired, made us emotional, and shaped our outlooks on what is possible in the realm of fantasy. They are still being passed down through generations (and even remade and tweaked), so Wish’s existence to remind everybody of that isn’t as effective. What exists is a skeleton of a story full of nostalgic figures that look to hold your attention under the furniture arrives.
For those new to the Disney ethos, it will serve as a primer to the many decades of characters its creators have released into the world. Otherwise, this particular tale is perhaps the entity reminding itself of its history and that it can still do the things it has done in the past. The beautiful magic kingdom of Rosas is the land where dreams live and breathe. Citizens venture there for its safe and bountiful landscape under the watchful eye of King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine). The tradeoff goes a little something like this. You come to Rosas, where you won’t have to worry or want for anything ever again. That’s with the understanding that you are to give your wish (your greatest desire or purpose) to Magnifico.
His immense powers of sorcery keep these wishes in blue orbs for safekeeping (because you want to keep your dream out of the way of the pesky, depressing ways of the world). Every year, there’s a ceremony where Magnifico grants specific wishes based on what he deems workable to the community. I don’t think this is the feeling writers Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore intended, but there doesn’t feel like there is an upside to this deal. Magnifico is charismatic and portrays himself as looking out for the mass populous. But why does one person get to deem the wishes worthy of being granted?
That’s where the upbeat and whipsmart Asha (Ariana DeBose) comes in. It’s a big day for a couple of reasons. Her grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber), is about to celebrate his 100th birthday; perhaps it’s the day he gets his wish granted. She’s also one of the frontrunners for being Magnifico’s apprentice. She has all the intentions of the world to help not only Sabino, but many of the Rosas faithful. Her late father taught her that wishes are made conventionally (on a star!).
Her way of thinking runs afoul of the mission statement of Magnifico and justifiably so. She becomes dejected when they fall out and does what her father told her to do. Down comes a cute little star with powers. With its stardust, miraculous things happen – fruits grow enormous, and animals start talking independently (including Asha’s goat, Valentino) (Alan Tudyk). Who outwishes the wish giver? Thus, the overall conflict comes into place, which also feels like a self-parody of the company. In the need for more power, Magnifico then turns to dark magic reminiscent of something Maleficent would use. If his character is supposed to be a metaphor for Disney, Wish indirectly says they are the corporate holders of our dreams, and they could grant them.
If we are supposed to be Asha and her friends, it also feels that another message is for us to untether ourselves from that. It’s an odd dichotomy for a film that’s essentially a celebratory pat on the back for its IP history. Wish’s 2-D/3-D animation style makes for some beautiful moments, particularly regarding the overview of Rosas and the musical numbers where many characters are on the screen simultaneously. Songs like “This Wish” and “Knowing What I Know Now” (soundtrack written by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice) are a cross between more pop-leaning formulas and the usual rousing Disney numbers of the past.
It’s not as if Disney doesn’t know how to love on its accolades. They just did it with the short Once Upon A Studio. Wish is where they allowed the celebration to get in the way of telling the stories they have always managed to bring home.