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  • Writer's pictureBryce Chismire

Wish (2023)

100 years of Disney. What a milestone, huh? It all started with not just a mouse but a man who came in with big aspirations and huge dreams. After following through with them, his contributions to animation churned out one fantastic animated film after another, revolutionizing the entertainment industry with its magic and whim. He was even innovative with animation when exercised beside live action, too, for he knew how to blend them together to make the improbable seem probable and make the animation feel even more alive than ever.


This man’s name was Walt Disney.


Now, in 2023, on Disney’s 100th anniversary, it was capped with the animated movie Wish. Now, is this the movie most deserving of ending the centennial on a high note? Yes and no.

The story is set in the Kingdom of Rosas, where everyone makes their wishes and entrusts them to their ruler, a sorcerer named King Incognito, who established the kingdom hoping to see to it that his people’s wishes would be granted. A young girl named Asha was excited about having her grandfather’s wish granted by King Incognito, especially after applying to be his potential apprentice. But as these two got to know each other more, Asha discovered that the king was safekeeping his people’s wishes without specifying when or even if he’d grant them, including Asha’s grandfather’s wish.


Horrified by what Asha discovered about King Incognito’s handling of his people’s wishes, she had to go home to her parents, especially her grandfather, to tell them the bad news. At her lowest, she conveyed her deepest wish and desires in song. Then, the next thing she knew, a personified star came down – for she unwittingly wished upon him – and greeted her and her pet goat, Valentino, whom he had given the ability to talk. After discovering the true powers that this star is capable of, and because of her discovering King Incognito’s deceptions and intentions with his people’s wishes, Asha decided to rally up her friends and start by snagging her grandfather’s wish and returning it to him before it’s sealed away forever. What’s she to do about the wishes since they’ve fallen into the wrong hands? How will she and her friends attempt to reason with King Incognito? And can they?


When I first heard about this movie, one aspect that interested me was how the movie Wish is supposed to be the story of how the Wishing Star itself came to be. One of the central theme songs of Disney is When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio, and from Pinocchio to Peter Pan and Princess and the Frog, Disney surrounded its entire philosophy on the wishes anyone can make upon a star. As the saying goes:


Star light, star bright,

first star I see tonight,

I wish I may, I wish I might

have the wish I wish tonight.


I think that’s ubiquitous amongst everyone, and that makes sense because Walt Disney himself lunged into the movie business with a wish to establish himself as a regime in the Hollywood community. And he had done so dearly with his animated films, TV shows, and theme parks.


The movie Wish had what I can tell was not an easy task of fabricating an original fairytale surrounding wish-making and running along with it. I can tell this was tricky because the other times Disney made fairytale movies, they usually adapted them off classic fairytales themselves, whether they be Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Rapunzel for Tangled, and The Snow Queen for Frozen. Many of those films worked because they were each distinguished takes on pre-existing fairytales. And Wish was a movie trying to create an entirely fresh and original fairytale, which I see as commendable in its artistic merits and execution. However, it lost some of its footing with what it decided to throw in.


Outside of Asha, some of the first characters I see are a group of cohorts in the castle who have known Asha for a long time. Among them was the reasonable one, Dahlia, who I could identify from her red clothing; Simon, a big guy who sleeps a lot; Safi, the guy who sneezes a lot; and a short guy, Gabo, who’s always a grouch. As soon as I got familiar with these specific characters – seven in total – I could tell right away they were modeled after the Seven Dwarves from Snow White.

Come to think of it, it’s not just the Seven Dwarves. Even the title cards at the beginning and end of the movie carry the same fonts and color schemes as the credits of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. And I think that’s one of the first problems with the movie. It seems like it’s determined to pay homage to the many outstanding achievements throughout Disney’s history instead of throwing its own take on fairy tale storytelling and standing on its own as a movie that would fit snuggly alongside the other major Disney classics.


Generally, it is its own movie altogether 90% of the time. Whenever it does reference other Disney films like Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, or Mary Poppins, to name a few, it’s generally very subdued about it, which I admire as well. But in cases like the seven sidekicks or the Peter Pan lookalike at the end, that’s when its attempts at paying tribute to Disney’s legacy tend to backfire. I can understand Wish’s commemorative aspects, but I feel like it suffered from the problem of trying to take what was popular in past Disney masterpieces and referencing them instead of reinventing them. Movies like The Little Mermaid and Frozen managed to do that, and they became some of the most successful films of all time.


Starting with the characters, I have mixed feelings about the villain, King Incognito. Part of the reason may be that his schemes didn’t add up for the first half of the movie.


At the beginning, he was worried about watching other people’s wishes go to waste, so he established the Kingdom of Rosas to grant the wishes of those he cared about, like his people. So then, if he became more desperate than ever to hold onto their wishes for himself, what made him decide not to grant his people their wishes and be a man of his word? I guess he was more dismayed about seeing his wishes go to waste and wanted to work off those of others, which became an equally harmful way of handling wishes.

Now, that’d be understandable if his reign in power drove him off the deep end, especially as far as the sentient Star is concerned. Before the Star came down, he had shown so brightly that everybody in the Kingdom of Rosas caught onto this, especially King Incognito, who was disturbed by the Star’s presence and wanted to remain the primary wish-maker at all costs, even if it meant going against the advice of his wife, Queen Amaya. He even had a magical spell of books that he initially sealed off for fear of tampering with it. Eventually, however, he relied on it as a last resort. By that point, he decided to rely on the source of its dark magic to keep the wishes for himself, keep Asha at bay, and get to the bottom of the Star that had come down. But that makes me wonder how he ever accessed a book like that when all the other books he had around his quarters were general books and possibly records of his people’s past wishes.


On top of that, I was concerned about what type of villain he represented. At first glance, I looked at him like he represented Walt Disney, but rather the dark aspects of him. He resembled the kind of man who is a dreamer and a wisher and wanted to make the most of them, but in the process, he became so consumed by his desires for them that he accumulated the wishes of others. Because this movie is supposed to commemorate the 100 years of Disney that followed because of Walt’s dreams, I don’t know if this was a jab at the darker sides of Disney altogether or if this is an unintentionally harmful portrait of Walt Disney. If anything, I also wondered whether he’s supposed to represent all the obstructive forces that Walt Disney himself had to put up with. I remember reading that one of Walt Disney’s favorite stories was Cinderella, not just because he wholly related to the heroine with regards to constantly struggling to have his wishes come true, but also because people like Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters felt reminiscent of all the naysayers he dealt with who tried to talk him down and keep him from fulfilling his dreams.


If Wish wanted to do that with King Incognito and represent all the bad aspects of Disney that people have caught onto as of late, then it would work. In fact, Disney has had a problem with safekeeping Song of the South ever since the mid-80s, and I wonder if King Incognito’s wanting to hold onto those wishes for a long time represents that on a multiple basis.


There are many possibilities to explore with King Incognito, but I think he’s more of a representation rather than a fully-fledged main character or a villain.


Asha’s parents, Sabino and Sakina, seemed like nuanced characters. But something about Sabino struck a chord with me, and it’s probably because of how his wish was such a simple one, and that’s to be a guitarist. But what spurred Asha to revolt against King Incognito was to see that wish turned down by King Incognito because he thought it was too dangerous. It also hit me how Sabino was turning 100 years old.

When you match up his birthday with Disney’s anniversary, perhaps it reinforces King Incognito’s intentions in the movie, as I mentioned earlier. Maybe King Incognito did represent the naysayers Walt dealt with in his life after all.


At first, I feared that Queen Amaya would have been nothing more than a background character and not do much in the movie. But once she started to catch wind of her husband’s deceitful methods, she slowly came into her own as a considerate and rightfully concerned queen who acknowledged that her husband had lost himself to his commitments and greed. The moment she finally decided to act on her own terms in response to this, I’ll mention soon in this review.


Of course, given how long she was married to King Incognito, I still wonder exactly how much King Incognito had fallen to his greed in his pursuit to keep his people’s wishes to himself. As I said about King Incognito, some details could have used more ironing out. For example, if Queen Amaya had been married to King Incognito since he established his kingdom, at what point was she certain that the aspiring, charitable dreamer she married was dead? Still, it conveyed a righteous message, and I respect what they could’ve achieved with the Queen.

Asha is a very respectable teenager who started off awkward, especially since she knew she would be applying for an apprenticeship with the king himself. But by the time she discovered his true intentions with his people’s wishes, she started to rethink where her commitments lay and who she should entrust them to. Plus, I admired how she got a firmer grasp as she dug deeper into the treachery surrounding King Incognito and caught on to how severe the dilemmas were. At first, her goal was to snag her grandfather’s wish and return it to him before it was sealed away forever. Along the way, however, she discovered it’s not just her grandfather but everyone in the entire kingdom whose wishes could be at stake and decided to act off as such without attracting King Incognito’s attention. That kind of character growth in her feels very admirable. While there’s not much personality to her, her essence and methods of carrying out her valorous deeds accounted for her lack of complexity.


The one character I feared would be annoying but turned out not to be so was her pet goat, Valentino. After starting in the first half of the movie as just a regular old goat, once he was given the ability to speak thanks to the sentient Star, his expressions and words of advice generally came out with arrogance and pride. Some of his mannerisms made me wonder if he spoke out what would’ve gone through any goat’s mind. However, there are times when I wish that maybe Valentino expressed more about his friendship with Asha and not just goading about his ability to speak or catching on to certain things.


However, I will say this about the movie: the blending of the 3D animation with the 2D hand-drawn animation is spectacular. It’s obvious Wish wanted to follow the lead of films like the Spider-Verse movies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and experiment with its blending of 3D animation with 2D hand-drawn animation after Disney mastered both individually. The last time they attempted this, it was with the short film Paperman – a phenomenal short film, I might add – and whereas Paperman is more of a 2D hand-drawn short film, this one is more of a computer-animated film, yet there are some spots throughout the movie where it looked like something out of a 2D hand-drawn animated film, which I think is impressive.

Even the backgrounds carried a painterly style to them; they remind me a lot of Sleeping Beauty in that they convey the more old-fashioned styles of the fairy tale worlds while also unleashing a great deal of atmosphere. Speaking of Sleeping Beauty, I also can’t help but recall the opening and ending scenes with the fairy tale book segueing into the movie. While parts of it reminded me of Shrek, surprisingly, the general presentation here clearly called me back to Sleeping Beauty. Usually, this might be a slight issue since it also resembles what past Disney masterpieces utilized. But its visual tactics are too unique and admirably unprecedented for me to judge it as anything less.


What I do judge as less, however, are some of the characters’ designs.


King Incognito looked as dashing as he was menacing and generally composed when calm or subtle about his actions. But the animation of King Incognito as he began to look more unhinged from his overreliance on the power of his people’s wishes looked a little weird to me. In a Disney film supported by 3D computer-generated animation, it looked a tad too exaggerated to feel sustainable.


On top of that, I don’t think Sabino’s design looks accurate for anyone his age. Asha said he’s turning 100 years old, but he looked more like he was in his late 60s and early 70s than a centenarian. Couldn’t they have taken a cue from Grandma Coco and had him look his age and still be charming and innocent?


And finally, the only design that did not sit well with me – and we’re talking even way before I saw the movie – Star.

Wow! And I thought Olaf from Frozen looked out of place.


How do I put this? When I think of characters like Mickey Mouse in his Sorcerer’s Apprentice outfit, that’s Disney. When I think of Tinker Bell from Disney’s interpretation of Peter Pan, that’s Disney. When I think of the Star character from Wish, he looks more like someone right out of the Kirby games than a Disney movie. Granted, some of his expressions felt like they would fit in a Disney film, but that’s still not enough to save the character. He looks too cutesy and simplified for me.


One element of this movie I remember working generally well is the voice acting.


Many actors who played their roles throughout this movie gave respectable performances as each of their characters, including Jennifer Kumiyama as Dahlia, Harvey Guillén as Gabo, and Evan Peters as Simon. I also remember Asha’s parents being conveyed with just the right amount of down-to-earthness and sensitivity to them.


For me, however, there are three highlights I must address.


The first is Ariana DuBose as Asha. She honed her modesty to a generally adequate degree, and it helped her strengthen that which is apparent in Asha. But when things started to get serious, she gradually expressed a firmness in her voice that hints at her being a leader waiting to emerge. She was already fantastic as Anita in West Side Story, and while Wish may have gone through rocky terrain, what DuBose shelled out for the film proved her worth as a new-coming voice actor, as West Side Story had for her talents as an actress in general.


While the general personality of King Incognito is questionable, I cannot bring myself to question Chris Pine’s performance as this character. Whenever he was subdued, wild, or just egotistical, he let it all out, and in seemingly proper fashion, through King Incognito, depending on the circumstances he had to deal with. I usually remember him being a generally comedic actor or as Steve in Wonder Woman, so when I heard him unleash his villainous side for King Incognito, I could tell he was having fun with this role. He ended up being one of the main good aspects of King Incognito’s character.


Wish also roped in Disney veteran Alan Tudyk, this time as Asha’s pet goat, Valentino. Somehow, I can’t help but look at part of his performance like this was where he’s allowed to go all out with his performance, just as Valentino was going all out with his vocal cords once he could talk. It felt funny listening to such a manly voice from a seemingly cute goat like Valentino; even Valentino was commenting on that as soon as he started talking. And from there, what Tudyk threw into this character felt like part of it was improvised, while the others tied into his character. Of course, whenever he highlighted the part of Valentino that knew when something had to be done, I started taking his performance seriously only then.


The more I think about it, the more I have a soft spot for Angelique Cabral as Queen Amaya, so make that four. There was a mild tenderness in her voice and growing concern and agitation when she caught on to King Incognito’s nefarious plans. Once she started acting out on her terms, she expressed more authority in her voice, showing that she was the Queen of Rosas and willing to do anything to steer her kingdom in the right direction in the face of innermost chaos.

Some of the songs in the movie are nothing special, but they still did their job adequately. The beginning song, ‘Welcome to Rosas,’ is catchy and gets me into the mood with the joyous essences of the forthcoming Wish Coronation. It even reminded me a bit of Encanto.


‘This Wish,’ which Asha sang when she was down on her luck and questioning her values, exposed her inner angst and profound desires as she unknowingly called forth the wishing Star to help her. It hearkened back to the classic ‘I want’ songs from many of Disney’s older classic films.


Interestingly, the song ‘You Are a Star,’ sung by Valentino and all the woodland critters as they highlighted the importance of achievements, felt a bit too on the nose with its message. But at the same time, its implications are subtle and clue me into the song’s real message. What it hinted at is relatively similar to what I revere about Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog: to make wishes come true, it all boils down to nothing and no one but you.


Frankly, the villain song, ‘This Is the Thanks I Get?!’ sounds more like a modern pop song than a traditional villain song. Granted, it’s nice to finally see a villain song after so many years of wanting one, but this song’s methods of developing one somehow do not match the threatening tenor King Incognito exhibited as he wrapped his head around all that went wrong in his attempts to harness all the wishes for himself. Of course, the visuals surrounding King Incognito as he sang out his frustrations, and all with Asha, Valentino, and Star trying to sneak away Sabino’s wish behind his back, help add enough intrigue to the ongoing circumstances to level it out.


You know how the songs ‘Kill the Beast’ from Beauty and the Beast and ‘Savages’ from Pocahontas narratively, musically, and perfectly reflect the urgency among the characters as they prepared to undergo a massive undertaking? ‘Knowing What I Know Now’ feels like the heroic equivalent of such songs. Not only does it excel where the villain song stumbled and match the proper tones of the situations at hand, but its aggressive rhythms had me tapping my feet along to the tunes and almost feeling ready to join them in their fight. And watching Queen Amaya have a change of heart and join them in their battle at the right moment is the icing on the cake. For those reasons, ‘Knowing What I Know Now’ became my favorite of the film’s songs.


For me, the least memorable of these songs would be ‘At All Costs,’ sung by Asha and King Incognito. But it might have been because of the rug being pulled out from underneath Asha about King Incognito shortly after.

As for everything else in the movie outside of the animation, I also cannot help but respect its attempt to achieve simplicity in its story and characters. While the villain’s plot seems a bit nonsensical unless it’s a cautionary tale against being obsessed with power, the plot altogether is a very nice and simple one.


A girl discovers the king’s been hiding the wishes of his people for years, and it’s up to that young girl to try to foil his plans before his influence corrupts everyone in the kingdom. That’s it.


The plot is straightforward this way, and it takes us in for a good time as we engage in the essence of the story and the world’s fantastical nature. The characters express a level of simplicity to them as well. They’re not overtly complex or like something you’d see out of a live-action drama, but rather simplistic characters with simplistic goals and simplistic friendships, and they all help support Wish’s methods as a feature-length fairy tale. 


Now, as much as I admire Wish’s efforts to be an all-new fairytale and commemorate all that Disney had accomplished in the first hundred years of entertainment and cinematic art, I still feel like it didn’t reach the heights necessary to establish itself as its own Disney film.


If you want a better example of a commemorative Disney feature-length film that still stands tall in its artistic merits, check out Fantasia 2000. I first saw this in IMAX over 23 years ago, and I was just entranced. I was so spellbound by watching all of the fantastical imagery dancing across the screen that I felt transported into its realms of animation with its selection of music from George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue to Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird and even Beethoven’s Fifth. But it also works for several reasons. First, it experimented with various types of animation; after all, Rhapsody in Blue felt like an Al Hirschfeld painting. While all the other segments conveyed traditional high-quality Disney animation, it also does the honors of continuing what Walt Disney originally envisioned doing with Fantasia, and that is to have it be a continuous work in progress by adding in new segments fit for Fantasia accompanied by some of its classic favorites. If you’re wondering why the segment, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, is in that movie, that’s why. It also felt like a solid, fitting movie to open the new year of 2000 with, not to mention the new millennium, and for such a spectacular occasion. It felt like a lovely, appropriate film to do so with, and it is still fondly remembered as upholding what Walt Disney originally wanted to do with Fantasia.

For that matter, what better way to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of Disney than with the short film that was supposed to have premiered with Wish in theaters, Once Upon a Studio?


This short was short, sweet, and bleeding with Disney nostalgia and remembrance. All it’s about is Mickey Mouse and every one of the characters from Disney’s catalog banding together throughout Disney’s animation studio to have their picture taken for the centennial. It is filled with callbacks to the original films, complete with the characters being voiced by the original voice actors – some with clips of the original recordings of the voice actors who’ve passed on – and the tributes to Disney throughout this short felt overwhelming in the measly ten minutes it lasted. It felt more like an adequate commemoration of Disney’s 100-year legacy.


Ironically enough, that was one of the parts of Wish I looked forward to seeing on the big screen, especially since I’d already seen it on Disney+. Except, when my girlfriend and I saw it in theaters, it was only Wish, without Once Upon a Studio coming before it. When I noticed this omission, I was disappointed. I remember reading that this pair-up was given serious consideration, but to see both Once Upon a Studio and Wish not paired together in theaters seems like a huge missed opportunity. It seemed like this short film was destined for theatrical release, especially with Wish given its own ideas of commemorating Disney’s 100th anniversary.


As is, while Wish does achieve its moments of subtlety, its acknowledgments of Disney’s legacy are too blatant for me, to the point of feeling derivative. Of course, Wish still has a lot of respectable elements to it, with the characters and story being simplistic, the blending of 3D animation being spectacular, good experimentation for Disney, and the songs being decent, too. I feel like the design of the Star character could have been worked out more, and King Incognito feels like a sloppily executed villain. Wish looked like a modern fairy tale at best and a Disney classic wannabe at worst.


I also noticed that it has not been doing well at the box office, so I don’t know whether any mismanagement of Disney’s animated property is giving Disney a hard time this year, but it’s anyone’s guess. Whatever happens, I hope that Disney will be able to learn from its mistakes and know how to utilize what it experimented with in 2023 for something more deserving of such artistic work.


Here’s to another hundred years, Disney, and I wish you the best of luck with your future creative endeavors.


My Rating

A high B-

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