When I saw Disney’s Wish, I wasn’t impressed. 2023 is Walt Disney Animation’s 100th anniversary, and Wish was touted as the crown jewel in a fabulous centennial celebration. But the film’s animation, music, and several other key facets of production leave much to be desired. Is Wish really the tribute the studio that invented the feature-length animated film deserves? The film purports to pay homage to the company’s humble beginnings while blazing a trail to show just how far they’ve come. Wish falls short of its lofty goals, but more than that, it just isn’t very good in general. I touched on this in my review, but I want to delve into some spoilers and deeper issues with the film. Since I saw an early screening, I wanted to let the official release pass before doing this, and I wasn’t about to worry about this lame movie on Thanksgiving. Let’s take a look.
Music has been an essential facet of Disney animation since the start. Not all Disney animated films are musicals, but the musical score always helps tell the story, and often, the non-musical films have non-diegetic songs throughout. In its feeble attempts to harken back to the golden age of Disney animation, Wish is a conventional movie musical with an “I Want” song for protagonist Asha, a villain song, a big third-act ensemble number, etc. The songs aren’t very good, and I don’t sympathize with that central want Asha has. This is a big deal because if we don’t root for the protagonist, it’s hard to feel invested when things go wrong and are inevitably set right. Now, we step firmly into spoiler territory and the real reasons why Wish doesn’t work. The very foundation this movie is built on is faulty to the core. Asha’s powerhouse line, “So I make this wish/For us to have something more than this,” rings hollow because of the lack of clarity and urgency. It’s not clear what the stakes are in this story. The people of Rosas have a pretty cushy life. Without a better understanding of what the wishes are and what King Magnifico is taking away, I don’t understand why we’re supposed to hate and fear him. Asha’s plight comes off as “first world problem-y.” I don’t know what the “more” is that Asha wants or why she and the Rosas citizens need it. Asha denies being selfish, but that’s exactly how she comes off. The movie would be more interesting if they did something with that. When I was looking up this movie to find out if it’s actually good and I’m just a hater, I discovered something. At the movie’s premiere in California, directors Chris Buck (Tarzan, Frozen) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (Raya and the Last Dragon) explained that they want Asha to come off as an activist. I’m glad I didn’t know this going in, because I would have worried about this statement coloring my read of the film. This makes so much sense. And listen, I’m not hating on real activists. Without them, we wouldn’t have worker’s rights and the right to vote for women. But I do not want to watch a Disney musical about that. And even then, they fall short. Asha is spoiled, and I don’t understand exactly what she wants.
These songs are not memorable. A couple of them are catchy while you listen, but you won’t be humming these when you leave the theater. The next day after my screening, “This Wish” was the only song I could remember the title or lyrics to. This tune doesn’t compare to “How Far I’ll Go,” “Reflection,” or any of the great Disney “I Want” songs. Asha’s undefined goal and lackluster personality are part of this, but the song isn’t special musically either. And the beginning of the song is completely forgettable. Unfortunately, this song is performed a couple of times in the film. I say unfortunately because it gets worse every time. The final iteration is an ensemble number as the people of Rosas turn on Magnifico. It’s supposed to be inspirational as Asha wins the people to her side, but it rings hollow. It’s cheesy, but more importantly, the relationships aren’t strong enough to support this supposedly emotional turn of events. These directors and songwriters must have loved Encanto because they constantly aspire to recreate it. This grand finale is much like “All of You” from that movie, but again, Wish doesn’t do the legwork. It feels rushed and forced because we don’t understand the bonds between these people. “Welcome to Rosas” is the opening number; think “Belle” or “The Family Madrigal .”In fact, it sounds a lot like “The Family Madrigal,” but without the catchy tune and insights into the characters and story. Asha introduces the wish system and King Magnifico, neither of which is sufficiently explained as the film progresses. But “The Family Madrigal” was so much more than a SparkNotes explanation of the film’s central conflict. Sure, it’s here that we learn of the importance of the gifts in Encanto. And here we’re informed that we don’t talk about Bruno. But this song is fun, energetic, and introduces us to Mirabel’s personality and the rest of her family. “Welcome to Rosas” doesn’t tell us anything about Asha, let alone her hoard of friends or her mom and grandfather. I find this so frustrating. Animated films are expensive to produce, you know. That’s why they’re usually shorter than live-action, and a 3-minute song often pulls double duty, telling us a lot of information quickly and with pizazz. The songs in Wish are just sad and dull in comparison. They exist for two reasons: to push this sluggish, lazy story along and because Disney movies are expected to have songs, right?
However, as hard as I am on “This Wish” and “Welcome to Rosas,” it’s all downhill from here. Familiar tropes and the triumphs of Disney’s past are as much as Wish ever aspires to. “I’m A Star” is the worst Disney song I can remember. Although I’m a Disney fan, they’ve had plenty of songs I didn’t care for: “A Guy Like You” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, both of Olaf’s songs in the Frozen movies, “Trashin’ the Camp” from Tarzan, and more. Even a good movie can have a dud song. But “I’m A Star” is worse than all of them. In this song, the Disney wishing star comes down and begins giving animals the ability to talk. The woodland creatures use their new oratorical powers to tell Asha she is a star, as is everyone else. We are all shareholders in the galaxy because we’re all made of stardust. That’s just a fact, so I don’t question the stardust bit. But this song is so obnoxious in its messaging and just how it sounds. Also, the fact that matter comes from dead stars doesn’t make Asha a star. This “revelation” (if you can even call it that) doesn’t match the heart of Moana finding out she’s descended from voyagers or Mirabel learning the truth about Bruno. This sounds like a song from a kids-only TV show like The Doodlebops or maybe Sofia the First, not a theatrical release. Honestly, from what I saw, Sofia the First was usually better than this. That’s sad. “I’m A Star “is significantly worse than the others in Wish, but it’s indicative of the whole soundtrack.
“At All Costs” should be much more interesting than it is, a duet between Asha and King Magnifico about the Kingdom’s wishes. This scene is supposed to illustrate why the King isn’t the right person to guard the wishes. We should get some sense that Asha cares in a purer way than he does. But the scene is dull both musically and visually. And they both just promise to protect the wishes, which is so odd. Protect them from what? What danger could a wish be in? Much like the others, this song fails to tell us crucial information. And it just sounds boring. You will forget this song before the movie ends. “This is the Thanks I Get?!” is Magnifico’s big villain song. It’s pretty lame and hints at the greater problems with his character. Playing this song for laughs is a serious miscalculation. This is the first classic Disney villain in over a decade, and you’re going to make him into a joke? His motives and how (un)sympathetic he’s supposed to be are also unclear. This song will be quickly forgotten and will never join beloved Disney villain songs like “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “Prince Ali (Reprise),” “Hellfire,” etc. This leaves us with “Knowing What I Know Now,” the third act turning point song. Asha sings about how tired she is of Magnifico, and her friends – and, eventually, the Queen – join in. This song highlights something that bothers me about all of the songs: the singers are too good for this material! Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Harvey Guillen, Angelique Cabral, and most of this cast have lovely voices. They shine through these neutered, emotionally stunted songs, which speaks to their talents. I think it’s truly sad that this is the Disney musical they got to star in. What a waste! Anyway, this song is bizarre. Dahlia says, “I know I’m not the only one who’s fed up,” but when has she previously displayed that? Before this scene, she seemed a little skeptical of Asha’s proclamations about the King. This song is also terrible about slant rhyme. The whole soundtrack is, but it really seeps through here. The modern language and elongated musical phrases result in a confusing mess. The songwriters go so far as to make up words to force a rhyme. You’re not Dr. Seuss; stop this.
These songs sound like pop songs on the radio rather than show tunes. Full offense intended; they suck and don’t even have the right style for a movie like this. There’s no clever wordplay here. This all begins to make sense when you find out who wrote these songs. Benjamin Rice is most known for working with Lady Gaga. Julia Michaels has written songs for several notable pop stars. I don’t know much about these people, but they weren’t the right choices for this. Why didn’t Disney get the Lopezes, Alan Menken, or Lin-Manuel Miranda back? This is the worst Disney soundtrack possibly ever.