Music and animation are musts for Disney animation. However, a good story can elevate a bland-looking film or make a good one great. The writing in Wish is a confounding mess that I just can’t get my head around. The movie is about wishes at its core but has nothing exciting or unique to say about them. It says your wish is an intrinsic, essential part of you but never digs any deeper. Wish attempts to show you what it means with Simon, a sleepy, quiet member of Asha’s legion friend group. He gave up his wish, so he’s boring now. A character, I believe Gabo, actually says this in the film. This could have been more effective if we saw how Simon used to be or if he wasn’t the only person in Rosas to display these symptoms. Why aren’t Asha’s mother and grandfather this way? Why was her father able to be a wise, insightful philosopher without his wish? What are these wishes, and what mechanics do they operate under? What are the rules and limitations? We understand very little of this central facet of the story. If Sabino has a very normal, noble goal like inspiring the youth, why is one woman’s wish to fly? And I mean fly like a bird, not using a plane. Someone else has that wish. What does this mean? Are the wishes important, or are they silly?
It may sound like I’m harping on something ridiculous, but this is very important because the wishes are at the center of the movie’s theme. Wish tries to communicate to the audience that we should pursue our own dreams, not wait around for some higher power to magically grant them. I actually agree with that idea; if you don’t take responsibility and try to make changes for yourself, nothing will ever happen for you. I think Wish’s creators also thought they had something meaningful to say about how our desires and the way we pursue them shape us. This is underdeveloped and amounts to nothing, but you can see the attempt. This idea is also weakened by Asha becoming Rosas’ resident fairy godmother. This is yet another unnecessary Disney reference, and this one actively harms the story and message. How is Asha granting wishes as a fairy godmother preferable to King Magnifico doing so? The people would still rely on her goodwill to succeed. Asha teaches the citizens of Rosas to fight for their own wishes, and then this happens. What is this movie about, and what is it trying to say? We also have the prologue about Magnifico’s home and family being destroyed. Between this backstory and his reasoning for denying certain wishes in Asha’s interview, I don’t think he’s entirely wrong. In a world where magic is a very real commodity, it would be of the utmost importance to make sure only benevolent wishes are granted. But rather than engaging with Magnifico’s point of view or showing why he’s wrong, Wish just makes him cartoonishly evil as soon as he opens a magic book. Asha never has to reckon with him on a philosophical level, which could have been cool, as her father was a philosopher. She just decides he’s a tyrant, and everyone sides with her.
Finally, I want to talk about the concept of community. One of my favorite parts of Encanto comes at the end, in the song “All of You.” The family’s lamentations and reconciliations are interrupted by the people from the town. They chime in, “Lay down your load/We’re only down the road/We have no gifts, but we are many/And we’ll do anything for you.” I find this so moving that on my first watch, despite not liking the film that much, I got chills and almost cried. This is yet another case of something that Encanto did remarkably well and Wish pathetically fails at. Asha is a revolutionary, and her story is supposed to be about inspiring the people of Rosas. The Madrigal family essentially built a town and constantly help the inhabitants with anything they need. As a result, in their time of greatest need, those people arrive in droves to return the favor. They love this family and want to make things right. However, Asha’s inspiration makes a lot less sense. Despite talking about how much she cares and fighting for the people’s wishes, Asha has never done anything for them. What does Asha do in Wish that’s worthy of strengthening and uplifting the whole community? I love stories about community; I think because I’ve never felt close to my neighbors, I perceive these communal bonds as magical. Dahlia even sings that the people can be “Stronger than all his (Magnifico’s) magic combined.” All the pieces are here, but unlike Encanto, Wish doesn’t earn this. Asha doesn’t deserve this adulation from her neighbors and friends. These bonds aren’t developed at all in the movie.
Moana, Encanto, Tangled, and Frozen all communicated their messaging and themes more clearly than this. My biggest problem with Wish is that it keeps forcing me to compliment mediocre movies like Frozen! But it’s true. Disney has historically been incredibly apt at using delightful characters and fanciful animation to get across universal truths. Yet, in Wish, it feels like they simultaneously overthought this crucial element and ignored it. I’m sure there was a simpler idea that could have been seamlessly tied into Asha’s story, but Wish is more of an outline than a final draft. It would be more satisfying if Asha’s wish were at stake, but we never even learn what she or her mother wished for. An obvious opportunity to make this personal would have been for one of them to wish for Asha’s father back. As it stands, his absence is of no consequence, and I don’t know why they mention him. A more defined rift would naturally form between Asha and King Magnifico if she or Sakina made this wish, and he had to refuse or was unable to oblige. This one change improves the story, the message, and at least two characters.
It’s only right to give credit where it’s due, and shockingly, Wish has two redeeming qualities; they’re not enough to save the movie, but I thought I’d talk about them for the sake of fairness. The voice acting and singing in Wish are very good. This is a talented cast, and they absolutely could have filled a film like Encanto or Frozen nicely. I genuinely feel sorry for good performers like Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Harvey Guillen, and Evan Peters that this is the Disney animated musical they star in. I know I’ve said it a lot now, but it’s a waste! You can hear DeBose trying to wring emotion from the schmaltzy reprise of “This Wish” and when she talks about her father. DeBose is a powerhouse, and while she’s good here, I know she could have really rocked it in a better movie. Chris Pine gives the most enjoyable performance in Wish, and it just makes me sad. His singing and villainous prowess are both on display in Into the Woods, and he nailed it there. I can’t help but imagine what King Magnifico could have been if written competently. The cast is a huge point in Wish’s favor, which only makes the final product more frustrating. Finally, Wish is an original property. It’s banking on the Disney name, but that’s about it. It’s sad that we have to applaud this, but at the end of the day, at least Wish isn’t a sequel or a remake that destroys a previously established, beloved story. They can do whatever they want with their new creations, even though it’s a shame they didn’t do something better with Wish.
This will be the final piece in this Wish series. I’ve talked about several key aspects of production that failed this movie, as well as its few redemptive qualities. I was prepared to love this movie, and it’s very much my kind of thing. I know these films are primarily for children and families, but family adventures like this are my favorite “genre.” I say this to demonstrate that if anyone was going to love Wish, it’s me. The best Disney movies (and best movies, period) entertain and enchant the young while leaving the parents/adults with something to think about. Perhaps what baffles me the most about Wish is that it does the bare minimum to distract kids and doesn’t worry about the rest of us at all. The only adult I can imagine enjoying this is the most devoted Disney fan who is satisfied with lazy references and visual gags. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even recommend you check it out on Disney+; free or not, it’s not worth your time.