Wish: 100 Years of Wonder

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

Based on Walt’s vision for dreaming big, the Disney brand has become synonymous with trying to bring child-like wonder and hope to the next generation. Now, the company reaches the pinnacle of its 100th year celebration with Wish, a delightful animated film that celebrates the past, but also admits that they are ‘just getting started’.

Set in the magical kingdom of Rosas, Wish tells the story of Asha (Ariana DeBose), a sharp young woman who is determined to help her grandfather’s wish come true. In order to do so, she applies for a job as apprentice to King Magnifico (Chris Pine), the seemingly-benevolent ruler who has the power to grant wishes whenever he chooses. However, Asha quickly discovers that the King is far from who he appears to be, leading her to wish ‘upon a star’ in order to see change come to their community.

Directed by Fawn Veerasunthorn and Chris Buck, Wish leans into the tropes of its classic animated films with vigor and intent. Although the story is original and new, this particularly project takes its nostalgic feel to the next level in virtually every aspect of its production. For example, despite using modern technology, there’s little question that Wish is meant to echo the wonder of the hand-drawn cell-animation that made them famous. Using soft pastels and textured style, the CGI differs from the sleek lines of recent animated fare. (In some moments, Asha even feels as though she’s been layered over matte paintings.) 

What’s more, while the House of Mouse has always made references to its own IP in their films, Wish absolutely immerses the audience in Disney lore. References to Peter Pan, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty,Bambi ensure that the film become a celebration of its catalogue. (Asha even has seven friends who range in demeanour, ranging from Bashful to Grumpy.)  In doing so, Wish puts the emphasis on the stories that have made pop culture waves over the past century. 

At the same time, the film still feels like a modern Disney tale. For example, while Magnifico seems to want what’s best for his people, he also believes that he can dictate power over their wishes. This, of course, calls Asha to the cause. With a passion to do what’s right, Asha is willing to stand up against the patriarchal culture that holds power. She is strong-willed and passionate, willing to fight for justice alongside the oppressed. This, of course, differs wildly from the more tepid ‘helpless princesses’ of Disney’s earliest films, leaning into today’s healthier mindset.

Perhaps what taps into the Disney psychology more than any particular pop culture reference though is its pseudo-theology of ‘Wishing’. Just as Walt leaned into the notion of ‘belief’, Wish reminds the viewer that there is something powerful about dreaming the impossible. In Wish, those dreams are our powerful things, arguing that no one has the right to tell us what can or cannot be accomplished. Connecting people to the very stars themselves, the film believes that there is a beauty to humanity. Here, everyone matters and everyone has the right to look to their own future. It’s this sense of optimism that gives Wish its charm. Like the mantra of the Disney brand itself, Wish simply wants to empower its audience with hope and encourage them to wish for a better world. 

Remember, to this day, the theme song of the entire Disney brand remains ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’.

Admittedly, this intentional dive into nostalgia can make the film feel ‘familiar’. For fans looking for something ‘new’, Wish does feature common beats, making it feel like a retread of Disney’s greatest hits. For example, within its (quite solid) soundtrack, there’s a musical number with adorable creatures, a power ballad and the return of the ‘villain song’. And yes, the young female lead has an adorable sidekick and is looking for ‘something more than this’. 

But none of this should detract from the pure joy that exists within Wish

With the emphasis that the company has placed on their 100th anniversary this year, Wish feels like a culmination of their party. And, considering the impact left on pop culture by Disney over the last century, it’s a well-deserved celebration for a company that truly believes that it’s ‘just getting started’.

Wish is available in theatres on Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023.

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