Ten years ago, when Disney and Pixar’s animated films were not particularly successful or memorable, Frozen emerged as a groundbreaking success, grossing $1.2 billion at the box office and capturing the attention of audiences worldwide. It received multiple Academy Awards, featured catchy songs that became ingrained in popular culture, spawned a highly successful sequel that earned $1.45 billion, inspired a hit Broadway musical, and taught Disney how to update the traditional princess story instead of discarding it completely.
Ten years later, opening during the same Thanksgiving time slot, Wish is a confident successor with a script co-written by Jennifer Lee of Frozen fame. It follows the formula of a self-aware Disney Princess story, complete with catchy power ballads and plenty of potential for Christmas-themed merchandise. However, Wish lacks the same charm as Frozen and instead comes across as a cheap imitation, lacking in aesthetics and hindered by a lackluster and weak plot. The most disappointing aspect is the absence of magic, despite Disney’s reputation for highlighting the horrors of consumerism. We may still feel a sense of wonder when the familiar studio logo appears, but recent films have been lacking in this department. Despite including all the traditional elements, from a storybook opening to a grand finale, Wish fails to capture that same feeling.
The idea of a wish with limitless potential has been a recurring theme in the Magic Kingdom from its inception. Creating a new adventure based on this concept in a magical new kingdom seems like Disney is utilizing its vast collection of fairytales. While Wish may not be an entirely original story, it does blend together some familiar elements, making it feel like a remix. As it is Disney’s 100th anniversary, it could also be seen as a self-congratulatory celebration of their intellectual property. The protagonist, Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose, known for her role in West Side Story and her unintentional internet fame), struggles to stand out due to this derivative nature. She is defined by her singing abilities and a tendency to be awkward, in line with Disney’s recent trend of “adorkability”, resembling Sandra Bullock before her Oscar win.
The protagonist resides in the Kingdom of Rosas, led by King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), a sorcerer with the power to fulfill desires. When citizens turn 18, they reveal their greatest wish to him and it becomes his possession, causing them to forget what they originally wanted. Regular ceremonies are held where a wish is chosen and granted. Asha, at 17 years old, is preparing for an interview to become Magnifico’s apprentice, a highly sought-after position that she hopes will increase her grandfather’s chances of having his wish granted as he turns 100. However, as Asha becomes closer to the king, she begins to question the system she has been taught to trust and suspects there may be darker motives behind it.
During moments of realization, Asha begins to question Magnifico’s fascist rule in the film. The control is maintained by providing citizens with the illusion of hope, but their dreams are only allowed if they align with safe boundaries. Any wish that could potentially disrupt the status quo is denied. While there are interesting ideas to briefly consider, they are not enough to sustain our interest as the film falls into a standard formula. The script repeatedly attempts to charm us but ultimately fails. Asha has two sidekicks – a goat with a British accent and a Pokemon-like star – neither of which are cute or funny enough to justify the inevitable merchandise. Additionally, there is an excessively large group of friends without any wit or charisma, unnecessarily cluttering the plot.
The movie includes musical interludes, with DeBose showcasing her natural singing abilities. However, the songs are clunky and unmemorable, attempting to mimic Lin-Manuel Miranda’s energetic and overwhelming style. Only once, during Pine’s solo, do we experience a slight sense of magic. The animation, which combines classic watercolour backgrounds with modern computer-generated characters, is a major mistake. It is too jarring and prevents the audience from fully immersing themselves in the world, leaving the sense of wonder disappointingly out of reach.
Unfortunately, Disney’s centenary celebrations have been overshadowed by disappointing films and a disorganized release strategy. Despite the hype and the recent announcement of a fourth Frozen film, Wish is not the blockbuster success that was anticipated. Instead, it reminds us of the beloved classics and leaves us hoping that Disney can recapture that same magic.
“Wish” will be released in theaters in the United States on November 22 and in the United Kingdom on November 24.