Wish Review: A Throwback Reference-Fest for Disney Adults

In terms of plot, Disney‘s Wish is pretty basic. A plucky young girl with one dead parent — albeit not obviously a princess in any official way — learns something is rotten in her happy kingdom, unveils a nefarious villain, and must take him on with the help of a comedic sidekick and a cute animal…or is that vice versa?

In keeping with modern Disney fantasy animated features, there’s no handsome prince or love interest, and (spoiler-not-spoiler) good prevails by believing in itself. Judged on story alone, this is a movie that might come up lacking relative to most Disney classics.

Hidden Mickeys and More

Fortunately, there’s more going on than that. Wish is very specifically the 100th anniversary Disney animated feature, which means two things.

One: it’s sort-of the origin story for the star that characters in other movies wish upon…though the actual, specific plot-based origin isn’t much more than “it shows up.”

Two: it’s loaded with references to other Disney animated movies. Not specifically in continuity, but in visual and story cues. It insinuates — at the very least — that Wish may take place in the nexus of a multiverse.

Yeah, yeah — it’s an overdone concept. Yet Disney seems to have looked around at all the Easter eggs Star Wars and Marvel fans love in some of their movies, and thought, “Why shouldn’t the old-school cartoon fans get some of that service too?”

WISH – Asha. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

In a throwback likely to please a lot of longtime fans, Wish actually begins with a (live-action?) book opening, and the beginning of a story narrated. It tells of the Island of Rosas, where all are welcome to live in peace under King Magnifico (Chris Pine), who has studied magic long and hard to gain the power to grant wishes. He periodically does this for all his immigrant citizens.

Brimful of Asha

Ariana DeBose, too perfectly and appropriately skilled NOT to be cast as the lead in a Disney musical, voices Asha, a teenager who aspires to be the king’s next apprentice. Because she’s no fool, though, and because the king has excessive reservations about her grandfather’s simple wish, she quickly deduces that Magnifico is basically the polar opposite of what he seems. In taking everyone’s wishes for safekeeping, he causes them to forget, and lose all ambition. Meanwhile, he only grants the wishes that can pose no possible threat whatsoever to his absolute dominance.

In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ epic musical “Wish,” Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) and her pajama-wearing pet goat, Valentino (voice of Alan Tudyk), live in the magical kingdom of Rosas, where wishes really do come true. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Asha wouldn’t seem to have much hope taking on the king until she makes a wish of her own, and a sentient star falls from the sky. Not just any star, mind you, but a star named Star, who looks not unlike a Squishmallow. (Disney is going to sell a LOT of plush Stars, if Jazwares don’t sue.) Star doesn’t talk, but using its points as appendages, manages all sorts of mischievous magic tricks, including making all the animals on the island suddenly talk. This changes Asha’s pet goat Valentino from a cute baby bleater in a pajama-sweater into a histrionic adult voiced by Alan Tudyk, doing his Clayface voice from Harley Quinn. It’s funny, but far from cute.

Fear-est Pine

Magnifico, who moves very quickly into full villain mode, decides he must have the star once he knows about it. Even being king of all wishes isn’t enough for a despot!

Asha’s friends, not knowing the whole truth, must pick sides. If they rat her out, the reward is their wish granted. But what if she’s right that in actuality, their ambition has been stolen? Players of Disney Dreamlight Valley, in which major Disney heroes and villains living together all have amnesia, may feel some familiarity.

Featuring the voice of Chris Pine as King Magnifico, the epic animated musical “Wish” hits the big screen on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Though the movie is CG animated, Disney attempts a unique look here, as if the pencil art from the opening storyboards in many of the classic animated films had popped off the page and into three dimensions. Even though what we see is obviously not 2D, its colors and edges look like they used the textures of pencils and construction paper.

The songs feel more like show tunes than anything — they’re not super catchy or full of clever wordplay like the work of the Sherman brothers, but wordy and musical in a way only trained stage performers would usually take on (recall Pine’s role in Into the Woods, as possible practice), while not being quite so wordy as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-infused numbers. DeBose is adept; Pine once again channels William Shatner, the elder version, with some…pause…infused…sing-saying, and animated hand gestures that would do Captain Kirk proud.

Say Hello to the Bad Guy

The goal for Magnifico was to do a throwback, balls-out evil Disney villain, rather than the surprise reveals and neglected outsiders popular of late. As such, he blatantly channels Maleficent and Snow White’s evil queen, falling fully into dark magic with joy. Like so many real-world villains, his motive is simple greed — he already has everything most people want, but must have more the moment he realizes there’s more to have. It’s no stretch to see him as a politician, listening to everyone’s requests and only granting the ones that won’t inconvenience him in the slightest.

DANCING CHICKENS – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” Asha’s pajama-wearing goat Valentino makes the most of the magic that accompanies a little ball of boundless energy called Star. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

On the other hand, his rule over a magic kingdom in which guests get their own imaginations replaced with only those approved by the ruler sounds a bit closer to home. Especially once we learn that many of the wishes he won’t grant are the literal plots of other Disney movies. Consider Saving Mr. Banks through that paradigm: was Walt Disney a sort of Magnifico who took P.L. Travers’ wish away? Arguably, she thought so.

Egging It Onward

For longtime Disney fans and savvy kids, the over-abundance of hidden and overt references will likely wear out the pause button on Blu-ray players. Casuals who don’t care about such things should find that Wish hits all the right formula buttons, while offering a story much simpler than the likes of Wreck-It Ralph or Raya and the Last Dragon. It’s fun to watch, but like the wishes given to Magnifico, may lead a non-Disney adult to forget they originally wanted more.

Grade: 3.5/5