Synopsis: In the Kingdom of Rosas, a 17-year-old girl makes a passionate plea to the stars in a moment of need when she senses a darkness that no one else does.
Stars: Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Evan Peters, Harvey Guillén, Ramy Youssef, Jon Rudnitsky, Jennifer Kumiyama
Director: Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: This is a big year for The Walt Disney Company. On October 16th, the legendary studio celebrated its 100th anniversary, looking back on a century of entertainment that has pushed boundaries, asked viewers to imagine the impossible, and created dreams for multiple generations. There is hardly a place in the world that hasn’t been touched by Disney in some form or knows a character that the studio created. The legacy lives on in theme parks, merchandise, television shows, live-action movies, and animated feature films that have come to define its brand.
For the 62nd film to come out of Walt Disney Animated Studios, the company has gifted audiences with Wish, a fantastic blend of nostalgia for the classic storybook tales that formed the bedrock of the studio and contemporary musicality that gives it a beautiful, winning heart. The watercolor-like animation is gorgeous, the humor bright, and the songs from Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice are complex and soar right off the screen. Disney has taken confident steps forward by looking back with an eye for what has kept their early work so enduring.
Eagle eye Disney fans will immediately recognize the font that opens the film and will likely know what’s coming next, as star Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) narrates a gilded book that unlocks to reveal the first pages of our story. On a secluded Mediterranean island, an idealistic ruler builds his kingdom with the promise of safety and prosperity away from the harsher realities of the mainland. Teaching himself magic, the King harnesses the power of wishes, taking the greatest wish of each adult citizen and storing it away to be granted later. Once a wish is given, the owner forgets about their dream, freeing them to live a peaceful life, but deep down, there’s a nagging sense of unfulfillment.
The day of her grandfather’s 100th birthday coincides with Asha’s (DeBose) interview to become an apprentice to the King. Thinking that this interview would be a prime time to request for her beloved grandfather to have his wish granted, the question exposes the King’s vulnerability and opens Asha’s eyes to his genuine need for control. Her discouragement fuels a new wish within her, powerful enough to snag a mischievous star (one of the grandest non-verbal creations Disney animators have created in eons) to come down and change Asha’s world and the Kingdom of Rosas forever. However, the power-hungry King recognizes the threat to him from the supernova and Asha’s growing strength. Vowing to stop both, he begins crushing any dream he can along the way.
In casting Oscar-winner DeBose as Asha, Disney has a legitimate superstar talent, the rare actor that can deliver a complete performance simply using the power of their voice. DeBose not only imbues Asha with a formidable strength that comes across as confidently age-appropriate and a strong model for young girls, but she sings with a passion so present it’s like she’s standing in front of you. The Michaels and Rice songs aren’t all rangy showstoppers, but they show what DeBose and the other vocal talent (emphasis on talent) can do with songs that are trickier than we’ve seen in a while.
Along with DeBose, Chris Pine (People Like Us) sounds like he’s having a grand time as King Magnifico. He shares an early duet with DeBose that’s downright lovely and then circles back later with a crazed new take on the “I Want” song. Disney stalwart Alan Tudyk (Peter Pan & Wendy) adds another memorable character, talking goat Valentino, to his stable. Jennifer Kumiyama’s (The Sessions) warm tones as Dahlia, Asha’s best friend, are also welcome. I appreciate that Disney continues to be inclusive, presenting Dahlia as walking with a crutch but normalizing it by not addressing it.
Directed by Chris Buck & Fawn Veerasunthorn, I can see Wish being a terrific family movie choice for those who only make it out to the theater a few times a year. Though trim at 92 minutes, it doesn’t stay in one place too long, preferring to keep the story moving and the adventure going strong. While one could argue that there are a few too many supporting characters (human and otherwise), I was completely delighted throughout. For me, it was simple. Wish is one of the most pound-for-pound enjoyable animated films I’ve seen in a while. As a bonus, it has a rewarding finale that hints at Disney having more up its sleeve than may meet the eye and a celebratory credit sequence aimed squarely at Disneyholics.