Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney has been the master of creating memorable, lovable characters. And what would a bright-eyed protagonist be without their conniving evil counterpart? Surely, allies will be needed against such evil, be they animals, dwarfs, or enchanted objects. This is another crucial facet of Disney lore that Wish ultimately fails to recreate.
The only characters in Wish with any personality are Asha and King Magnifico, and even they leave much to be desired. Asha is obviously of some importance within the Kingdom of Rosas, giving tours and interviewing to be the King’s apprentice. It’s unclear what her role is or why a 17-year-old gets to give these tours. She also becomes a revolutionary over the course of one scene, suddenly turning against a King she previously adored and idolized.
King Magnifico’s characterization is just a mess. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? Is he just a mustache-twirling villain? The film can’t commit, resulting in a muddled, confusing character arc. Wish opens with a narration about Magnifico’s journey from orphan to wizard king. This details the destruction of his family and former home. This led me to believe he was somewhat sympathetic or had been corrupted by the evil he saw as a child. None of this is ever mentioned again, so I don’t know why it was included in the prologue. In his early interactions with Asha, the King comes off like he may have an understandable motive for rejecting certain wishes. He says that Sabino’s wish may be dangerous due to its vagueness. This could have been really interesting, but instead, we’re meant to sympathize with Asha. Sure, she immediately started asking for major favors at a job interview and took it personally when she was turned down, but OK, movie.
King Magnifico’s motives aren’t clear, and this is a significant issue with the film. Why does he want people’s wishes? What power do they give him? The movie portrays him as insecure and power-hungry, but he already has all the power in Rosas. He’s the King and the only sorcerer. What more could he want? Even his wife, the Queen, poses no threat to him until he starts acting crazy. This relationship could have been something exciting. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a marriage crumble in a Disney movie before. Disney films usually show people falling in love, not out of it. They don’t realize they married the wrong person or that their significant other isn’t who they thought. But this breakdown is handled in the dullest way possible. The King turns to dark magic in the form of a forbidden book, and this is enough to turn Amaya against him. Some buildup or a series of disagreements leading to this betrayal would have been cool. If she loves him as much as she says, and they’ve been together all these years, I don’t think one decision would be enough to end it.
Asha has seven friends known as “the teens.” They’re based on the Seven Dwarfs, usually sharing coloration, similar names, and other little references. I hate this a lot. These characters have no personality, which is a logical outcome when you have so many characters. Dahlia (Jennifer Kumiyama, Doc) is Asha’s best friend. I only know this because Asha calls her “best friend ever” when she wants something from her. Am I the only one who found this uncomfortable? It’s like Asha plays on Dahlia’s feelings to get her way. There’s no depth to this friendship. Tiana and Charlotte are a perfect counterexample to these two. We saw them interact enough to understand both personalities and their bond. I hate to say it, but Pocahontas and Nakoma were more convincing friends than Asha and Dahlia. At least Nakoma and Pocahontas hung out, and Nakoma often offered pragmatic advice that Pocahontas ignored. That feels more true, more like an authentic friendship. Wish‘s offering is a hollow imitation.
Gabo (Grumpy) is voiced by Harvey Guillen (Puss in Boots: The Last Wish), and as a result, he has the voice of an angel. So many of these actors are just wasted on this material. Throughout the movie, Gabo is skeptical of everything Asha says. That’s it. This makes no sense, as they’re friends who grew up together. Grumpy mistrusts Snow White because he doesn’t know her and thinks females are untrustworthy. You can’t apply this dynamic to characters who have known each other their whole lives. By the way, they casually dropped the sexism angle for Gabo. I can’t imagine why. Bazeema is Bashful, and she sweeps the floors. She also disappears frequently, and Gabo is the only one who notices. This is what passes for a joke in Wish. Hal (Niko Vargas) is Happy, and she has perhaps the least personality of all, and that’s saying something. Safi (Ramy Youseff) is Sneezy. This is very literal, as he just sneezes all the time. That leaves Dario (John Rudnitsky, Dopey) and Simon (Evan Peters, Sleepy). Dario is just dumb. Again, it’s a very literal adaptation, but without the charm of the dwarfs they’re based on. I didn’t know Evan Peters was in this until the credits rolled! They do not put his talents to good use here. Simon is already 18 and has given his wish to the King, causing him to lose his personality, and he always looks tired. This shift makes no sense because of all of the adults in Rosas who seem happy and lively. It’s another inconsistency you must ignore for the film to make sense or be enjoyable. Simon also betrays Asha, a moment that would be shocking and impactful if these characters were well-written. As it stands, I don’t care. How can I blame Simon or feel sorry for Asha when I don’t understand their relationship? I don’t fully understand his motive of wanting his wish back because the stakes of the wishes are so unclear. That leads to another problem with King Magnifico: Simon’s wish was to be the greatest Knight for his King; why wasn’t this wish granted on sight?! This is 100% to Magnifico’s advantage! When Magnifico ultimately grants this wish, he uses magic to enslave Simon. Why? He already wants to be completely loyal! Everything about this is bizarre and illogical. Of the seven, Dahlia interacts with Asha the most. None of the relationships among the friends are developed or challenged at all through the film. I think they gave Asha too many friends to explore in a 90-minute film. Giving Tiana and even Pocahontas one human friend worked out much better.
And that’s just Asha’s human buddies. She also has Star, Valentino the Goat (Alan Tudyk), her mother Sakina (Natasha Rothwell), and her grandfather Sabino (Victor Garber). Asha mentions her late father a couple of times in the movie, but I’m not sure why. Since we don’t know anything about him or their relationship, these feel like cheap, hollow attempts to glean emotion from the audience. Saying “my dad is dead” is sad, but it’s not automatically going to make anyone cry. If they didn’t want to develop this, why mention him at all? I thought bringing him back would be Asha’s wish, or maybe Sabino’s. And that could be why Magnifico denies the wish. But no, her father has nothing to do with the story or Asha’s arc, which hardly exists anyway. Wouldn’t it be heartbreaking if Sabino’s wish was to have his son back? We know that can’t happen, which would make it even sadder. And this would put Magnifico in a tight spot, receiving such a harmless yet impossible wish. Initially, it seems like Asha’s most important bond is with her grandfather, Sabino. Still, much like her father, nothing is done with this. As soon as she learns that the wishes aren’t being granted, Asha’s focus shifts entirely to fixing that. Star is harmless enough, but I liked Valentino MUCH more before he started speaking. Why is Star so obsessed with making animals talk? That’s almost all it does in the movie. We don’t know anything about Sakina, including how she feels about her late husband.
I could go on about this forever because Disney animated movies are usually so good at quickly establishing character traits through music and animation. I’m stumped as to how they missed the mark so furiously here. I like a couple of character ideas, such as making Sabino a stand-in for the animation studio. He’s turning 100 and wants to inspire the youth. That’s cool. Just make him an actual character next time. How old is Magnifico? Because Sabino is 100; did he give his wish to the King at 18? They even sing about “generations of expectations;” does Magnifico use magic to stay young? Well, “foxy grandpa” young, anyway. If so, how old are he and Amaya? Why is Asha the only one who realizes the system is rigged? Many other people aren’t 18 yet, and her mom agrees with her despite being older and wish-less. Why should Asha become a fairy godmother and grant wishes? Isn’t this re-instating the crooked system she just dismantled? Why did Magnifico show Asha the wishes anyway? Amaya says he never does that, and clearly, it was a bad idea. The truth is, these would be nitpicks if the movie was emotional, had good music, or was in any way interesting. On the contrary, the writers seemingly dodged anything different or challenging when crafting this tale.