Disney’s Wish Illuminates a Century of Magical Animated History

Disney’s Wish Illuminates a Century of Magical Animated History

Disney celebrates its legacy in Wish—a movie filled with the company’s own mythology that also has bold allegorical similitudes to its recent history, all weaved into a powerful fairytale.

Wish was written by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ current steward Jennifer Lee (Frozen), alongside Allison Moore; their script harnesses the foundation Disney built alongside its legions of animators, writers, and really everyone on production over the past 100 years, sharing the sentiment that the company made one man’s dream come true through their wishes too. And while yes, there’s plenty of Easter eggs laid everywhere alluding to how tales like Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty will come to pass, this origin for the star Disney heroines and heroes wish upon is a very modern story.

It’s also smartly and gorgeously directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn. Two generations of Disney storytellers were needed to look back on the company’s past while looking to its future through the array of characters who reside in the kingdom of Rosas. Rosas is ruled by Magnifico (Chris Pine, in a role that feels like an unsubtle allusion to a certain disgraced former animation leader from Disney), who entices people to bring their wishes to him in exchange for his protection. Magnifico publicly seems like a magnanimous king but really gatekeeps his people from pursuing their wishes—he keeps all the wishes guarded in his castle, while only granting the ones he deems worthwhile, piecemeal—while he dictates their roles. That is until the young Asha (Ariana DeBose), who hoped to be his apprentice, discovers the truth about what it really takes to keep the kingdom going his way without the people really having a say.

Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

When Asha breaks into “This Wish,” the film ignites as an instant Disney classic. DeBose imbues Asha with sheer heroic sincerity, and sings some of the most beautiful Disney music, written by Julia Michaels. Wish’s lead song is not only an anthem for the film, championing the hopes to make things better and resist those who’d like to keep things the same, but is also the catalyst for one of its funniest characters that sets the whole plot going: Asha’s song calls down a wishing star, whose chaotic energy is hilariously riveting. The star almost feels like it lives for drama, and quickly sets about helping Asha take Magnifico down in order to remind everyone their wishes matter. It’s a great reframing of what could’ve been an expected sole savior story—Wish isn’t just Asha’s story, nor that of her capricious talking goat (Alan Tudyk), and them both being responsible for saving the day. It’s about her community of friends and the people of Rosas reclaiming their power together.

Wish is a powerful statement of how people can stand together more brightly, rather than leaning on one person to harness the direction of that light solely on themselves. It’s hard to ignore the context that Wish has come out in—not just Disney’s centennial, but in a year that has seen Hollywood reckon with the labor power of the creatives that power it—and as animation itself prepares to become the next labor battleground, amid a drive for unionization in the VFX industry that’s even growing out of Disney itself. Wish, and its ultimate message, offer a bold testament to everyone who makes movie magic at every level through an inspiring fairytale that speaks to artistry outlasting and being the true legacy—no matter who sits at the top. It’s aspirational and affirming to everyone whose dreams were inspired by the power of animation, not just Disney’s own specific legacy throughout 100 years of fairytales and adventures, while evolving to encompass so many more wishes.

Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Wish is a animation triumph with visuals that bring back the fairytale look we’ve missed since The Princess and the Frog while embracing the modern Disney era’s use of CG. It’s something we really hope Disney embraces going forward, as it looks gorgeous—give us Frozen 3 and 4 in this style, because we’re all in on the textured moving storybook visual feast. Wish is also funny, with a relatable ensemble of characters and delightful talking, singing animals, with Star as the film’s conduit of lawless whimsy whose energy powers the movie.

Sure, there’s some questions left unanswered, and some of its songs can feel overstuffed with exposition, mainly Magnifico’s—which somehow still doesn’t help explain his puzzling origin story motivation. But Wish is undeniably wondrous and delivers on DeBose leading an animated feature that will light up hearts and inspire minds. And yes, it has a ton of Disney nods and answers silly little questions like where pixie dust comes from, among other mythology revelations. Go see this one with those closest to you and bask in it.

Disney’s Wish opens in theaters Wednesday, November 22.

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