When you wish upon a star, you know where you are.
2023 marks the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s impact on the world. It began in 1923 when he created the animated/live-action short film series called “Alice Comedies,” which was about a real girl named Alice and a cartoon cat named Julius. Then in 1927, he created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and a year later, he created Mickey Mouse, who became his mascot. And finally, in 1937, he made his first feature film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and one delightful thing lead to another.
The latest Disney animated musical “Wish” serves as a throwback to the classics whose characters have “Wished Upon a Star,” and who were traditionally animated with watercolors before CGI even existed. This one is a combination of both formats, in which the traditional intends to overlap the CGI format. I believe animation has always been full of exuberance and it still can be, if only greed and cynicism doesn’t taint it. I often use it as escapism for the difficulties in life, but from time to time, I have my reservations, as I did last week with Dreamwork’s “Trolls Band Together.”
And I give “Wish” my positive feedback, not because it’s by Disney, but because of the colors, music, and exuberance that reminds us on why we loved “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Frozen.” The story sells itself short (and it runs for 90 minutes) and shouldn’t have to rely on IPs to support it (like how a group of friends have the same personalities and clothing of the Seven Dwarfs), but I am able to see through whatever cynicism we have been dealing with lately.
The story takes place on the island of Rosas, which is supposed to protect people from evil. Their King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) has been given powers to grant people wishes. There are a few hitches: they can’t remember what they wished for, and they may or may not be granted. Most of them of them won’t, as he believes they could threaten the kingdom. His kind wife Queen Amaya (voiced by Angelique Cabral) tries to be his voice of reasoning, but all he gets out of her “handsomest, most beloved king” compliment is the word “handsome.”
Fresh off her Oscar-winning role in “West Side Story,” Ariana DeBose voices Asha, who loves her mother (voiced by Natasha Rothwell) and 100-year-old grandfather (voiced by Victor Garber) enough to try to convince the King to grant their wishes. But when he refuses, she makes a wish upon a Star, and he comes to life. I’m pretty sure this Star is a he. Although he can turn a ball of yarn into his own dress. So it’s debatable.
He can make her pet goat Valentino talk with Alan Tudyk’s voice (he’s been the studio’s John Ratzenberger since “Wreck-it Ralph”), he can make all the forest animals talk, and he may be the only hope in saving everyone in her kingdom. But when word of this Star gets out, the King is willing to turn to dark magic to harness his powers.
Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice both wrote the film’s songs, some of which are poised to be Broadway material, but are also sparked by DeBose and Pine’s vocal chords. They both can sing and voice characters relatable to the audience. Asha can be spontaneous and optimistic, while Magnifico possesses the spiteful charms of Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” or the Queen in “Snow White.”
“Wish” was co-written and directed by Chris Buck, whose “Frozen” made my Best of 2010s list, whether my loyal readers liked it or not. And he has help from co-director Fawn Veerasunthorn, and co-writers Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore. It lacks the depth and emotion of that film (and I still don’t care if you like it or not), but it does have a good amount of exuberance to keep Disney fans watching.
I can’t always indulge in the studio, and you recall I disliked “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “The Marvels” this year, but when I see a combination of both animation techniques, when I hear terrific voice work, and when I see delightfulness, I have to recommend it. It’s no Disney classic, but it wishes to be, and that’s good enough for me.