Why Wish Doesn’t Work: Animation

Disney has been at the cutting edge of animation technology since its inception, and when it’s not, it just purchases whoever is. Even if a Disney animated movie doesn’t have a strong story or characters, you can almost always expect a visual treat. I was very interested in Wish‘s art style from the trailers. It’s something of a hand-drawn/CG combo, which reminded me of Disney’s Paperman short or the “painterly” approach the artists took to Tangled. More than likely, this was done to pay homage to Disney’s past and in response to successes like Spider-Verse, Arcane, and recent DreamWorks films. I still respect what they were going for here, but the final result is not fun to look at. Ideally, I would have liked to see a traditional, hand-drawn film for this centennial celebration. It’s apparent that Disney shouldn’t mimic the Spider-Verse style because they can’t pull it off. Even a movie in the new Disney signature style, like Moana or Encanto, would have been preferable to this. 

Wish AnimationThe motion of the characters is off. Sometimes it looks stiff, almost like they rotoscoped real actors. This is unnecessary and jarring in a fantasy story like Wish, and it’s inconsistent. Other times, the characters move like they weigh nothing. This is a big problem with Asha’s hair. I’m puzzled by this because Disney has proven they can do this well numerous times over the last hundred years. TangledMoana, and Encanto all featured characters with long, flowing hair that moved more believably than this. I wish (haha) I could find this clip from The Incredibles bonus features from the original DVD release. In it, Brad Bird discusses the importance of animating things as though they have mass and weight. The animators on that film studied classic Disney animation, particularly The Jungle Book, to understand and master the concept. I can’t fathom why Disney Animation Studio chose its hundredth anniversary as a good time to forget the fundamental tenets of their craft. 

Wish Animation

The textures in this movie give me the ick. This may be an odd complaint, but I’m a big texture person. The way certain textures look and feel poses a sensory problem for me. As a result, I care a lot about how textures look in computer animation. I’m a junkie for lush, realistic textures like what Disney has been delivering over the past decade or so. I don’t have the same expectations for traditional animation, of course. Different media require slightly different criteria, and hand-drawn movies don’t represent texture in the same way. The best way I can explain it is that Wish looks like someone made a computer-animated movie and then put a cartoon hand-drawn filter over it. Remember when everyone was making AI anime versions of their profile pictures? That’s what it looks like to me. Something that was designed with details and realistic nuance is paved over with a clean, glossy sheen that doesn’t suit it. The textures are smoothed out in favor of an artificial, soulless imitation of the hand-drawn animated films of old. 

Wish AnimationThat leaves us with character designs and facial expressions. I love Asha’s design! Many people said she looked like Isabela from Encanto, and from the concept art, I can see it. But in the movie, the only similarities are the purple dress and the long, black hair. And it’s a different shade of purple, and her hair has an entirely different texture and style, being braided. As soon as we got a good look at Asha, I knew I needed a doll of her. It’s such a shame they didn’t come up with as good of a personality for her. I’m also not the biggest fan of her facial expressions. Her eyebrows aren’t very expressive compared to characters in Tangled and Moana; those eyebrows tell a story on their own. When Asha does something “funny,” it’s really just a dorky face. And for whatever reason, this aspect of her personality and animation is only present in the film’s first half. This is a common theme here, as Magnifico is essentially a different character in the second half than the first, too. Asha is beautiful, but I’m not wowed by how they put her design into motion. 

Wish AnimationOn the opposite end of the spectrum is King Magnifico. His facial expressions are too much. Animators are more likely to exaggerate the expressions of characters that are meant to be funny, and for some reason, Magnifico is the film’s comic relief half of the time. This was a mistake; since this character is meant to be a master manipulator, showing him as calm and collected would be more effective. He should be totally under control except for when cracks form. As dumb as I think his magic book possessing him is, it could have been an excellent opportunity for some crazy animation. But all Magnifico really does with his new dark magic is create green swirls. I fail to understand why they made this movie if this is all they wanted to do. You can do anything with animation! You can create anything you can imagine. This film is such a dreadful waste. As for the other characters, there really isn’t much to say. I don’t like Sabino or Sakina’s character designs; they look chunky and awkward. They don’t fit with characters like Asha, Amaya and Magnifico. The friends and background characters look like they belong in Shrek. This reminds me of “the universal man,” a concept they developed at Pixar for The Incredibles. This was a standard model they drew background characters from to make sure they weren’t distracting and fit well enough with the scenery and the rest of the animation. Honestly, though, despite being almost 20 years old and animation technology progressing in leaps and bounds in that time, The Incredibles did it better. These guys in Wish look more like the creepy CG background characters in The Hunchback of Notre DameWish doesn’t get away with it, though, because CG isn’t a brand-new art form anymore. When Hunchback was made, there was no other way to create enough unique characters to populate the city of Paris. We’re past this, or at least, we should be.

In particular, look at the people on the edges of the screen in the image below. The animators didn’t have the time or resources to animate thousands of individual characters, so a computer program was used to replicate a few unique models. 

Wish AnimationThe animation in Wish isn’t theater quality, and the film shouldn’t have been released in this state. I admire the intention here, but the execution borders on the incompetent. This is the worst-looking Disney film in recent memory. At least “dark ages” films like The Black Cauldron and Oliver and Company have character; in Wish, any trace of passion and artistic pursuit has been scrubbed away. 

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