Wish Isn’t Disney’s Worst Modern Movie – It’s One of Their Best

So I make this wish, for this film to be a big hit.

Wish
Wish

For what’s meant to be the film celebrating Disney’s 100th anniversary, Wish is off to a significantly rocky start. Not only is it struggling at the box office, it also scored a disappointing 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest score received by a Walt Disney Animation Studios movie since 2005’s Chicken Little. With the middling reviews and the streak of mediocre films released by Disney since Frozen II, my excitement for this title was at an all-time low, and I was prepared to spend the entire time watching it with folded arms and a frown.

So imagine my surprise when I came out of the theater not just liking the film, but loving it.

Wish follows a teenage girl named Asha who lives in Rosas, a city ruled by the beloved King Magnifico who collects people’s wishes (which take on a physical form) for safekeeping and possible future granting. When Asha learns the king has no plans to grant most of these wishes, though, and deliberately holds them hostage in order to keep himself in power, she embarks on a journey to help free these wishes and give the people of Rosas back the hope they rightfully deserve.

This musical film doesn’t have a single disdainful bone in its body. It revels in its fairytale nature right down to its animation style, with numerous scenes feeling straight out of a storybook. Where so many animated films in the past ten years have been fighting to look as real as possible, Wish celebrates the fact that it’s animated, offering a mesmerizing and fuzzy visual experience that reminds you of childhood and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

This fairytale atmosphere is greatly reminiscent of Disney’s early works, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, and Sleeping Beauty. While Wish is too good-looking (and has too hefty a plot) to be mistaken for a film from that era, it’s wonderfully endearing how unembarrassed this movie is to be inspired by these classic titles. There’s no sarcastic wisecracking comic relief, no attempt at fantasy satire, and no hesitancies to embrace the sweet and wholesome nooks and crannies of its narrative.

This, to me, is best displayed in the film’s song, At All Costs, easily the soundtrack’s best song. “Promise, as one does,” the lyrics go, “I will protect you at all costs. Keep you safe here in my arms.” It’s sung in the first act by King Magnifico and Asha, and out of context, it sounds directed toward a child or romantic partner.

In the film, though, this is sung to the wishes in their physical form, and the decision to personify such an abstract idea as a wish — to treat a wish not as an it but a you — is nothing short of genius. It only serves to strengthen the movie’s message of how important our wishes are, and how the ability to dream and imagine is what makes us human.

Wish’s characters are also some of the warmest, most charming characters to come from a modern Disney film. Asha’s determination, kindness, and quirkiness are irresistible, her group of friends boast a sense of familiarity and closeness, Valentino makes for a dynamic animal sidekick, and you’d have to be pretty cynical not to be won over even a bit by Star’s cuteness and energy.

The exception to this warmness is, of course, the villain King Magnifico, but he’s great for a different reason – he is such a fun villain, especially with Chris Pine’s terrifically rhapsodic voice performance. Disney’s last non-twist villain was Mother Gothel from 2010’s Tangled, and does Magnifico show what we’ve been missing the past 13 years. The presence of a tangible threat in the form of a devilishly evil sorcerer greatly elevates this film, and makes us root for the protagonist and the people by her side even more.

Walt himself once said, “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.” Lifting inspiration from such a rich legacy, Wish reminds us why the company became such a well-regarded source of family entertainment: it inspires imagination in every young audience member, whether they be a kid or a kid-at-heart. Though Wish divided critics, if you give it a chance, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised and see it as one of Disney’s best.

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