Ten years ago, when Disney and Pixar’s animated films were not particularly successful or memorable, Frozen broke the mold and became a massive game-changer, grossing $1.2 billion at the box office and becoming a cultural phenomenon. It won multiple Oscars, created catchy songs that stuck in people’s heads, led to a sequel that made $1.45 billion, inspired a popular Broadway musical, and demonstrated to Disney how to update their traditional princess stories instead of abandoning them entirely.
10 years later, Wish opens during the Thanksgiving season, featuring a script co-written by Frozen’s Jennifer Lee. It is positioned as a confident successor, with a self-aware and formula-tweaking Disney Princess story. The film also includes numerous catchy power ballads and potential for Christmas-themed merchandise. However, Wish falls short of being a new Frozen and instead feels like a cheap imitation. Its aesthetics are lacking, the plot is mostly unimpressive, and the magic is missing. While Disney continues to be criticized for its role in mass-market capitalism, there is still a sense of wonder when the studio logo appears. While this feeling may not be as strong in recent films, years of experience have taught us to hope for it. Despite Wish’s inclusion of traditional elements like a storybook beginning and a grand finale, it fails to capture that same feeling.
The concept of a wish’s boundless potential has been a recurring motif in the Magic Kingdom since its inception. Creating a new adventure centered around this idea in a magical kingdom feels like Disney utilizing their extensive repertoire as a fairytale in and of itself. While Wish may not be an entirely original story, but rather a haphazard mix of familiar elements, it does serve as a self-congratulatory celebration of Disney’s 100 years of existence. Our protagonist Asha (voiced by Oscar winner and accidental internet sensation Ariana DeBose from West Side Story) is somewhat overshadowed by this foundation, her character lacking depth beyond her impressive vocal abilities and tendency to embody Disney’s recent trend of adorkability – clumsiness and awkwardness.
In the Kingdom of Rosas, ruled by King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), there is a sorcerer with the power to grant wishes. When residents turn 18, they share their greatest wish with him and it becomes his property, causing them to forget their original desire. Regular ceremonies are held where a wish is selected and fulfilled. Asha, 17, is preparing for an interview to become Magnifico’s apprentice in hopes of helping her grandfather’s wish come true as he approaches 100 years old. However, as Asha grows closer to the king, she begins to question the system she has always believed in and suspects there may be something more sinister at play.
During moments of realization, Asha begins to question Magnifico’s authoritarian rule, making the film more captivating and possibly bordering on uniqueness. The illusion of hope is used to maintain control over citizens, but dreams must adhere to safe boundaries and any wishes that may jeopardize the status quo are denied. However, the film becomes uneventful as it follows a typical formula and the script is clumsy in its attempts to charm the audience. Asha is accompanied by a talking goat with a British accent and a Pokemon-like star, neither of which are endearing enough to justify the inevitable merchandise. Additionally, there is an excessive number of friends who lack wit and charisma, unnecessarily cluttering the plot.
The movie includes frequent musical interludes, and although DeBose is a talented singer, the songs are clumsy and unmemorable. They try too hard to imitate Lin-Manuel Miranda’s energetic and exhausting style, and only Pine’s solo manages to captivate us. The animation, which combines traditional watercolor backgrounds with modern computerized characters, is a major mistake. Its jarring effect takes away from the immersive experience that the movie should have provided, leaving us disappointed and unable to fully enjoy the wonder of this world.
Disney’s current state is filled with challenges, as their 100-year anniversary is overshadowed by disappointing movie performances and a disorganized release plan. Their latest film, Wish, falls short of the highly praised Frozen franchise and was desperately needed to boost morale (as seen by the recent announcement of Frozen 4 before Frozen 3 has even begun production). Seeing their usual successful techniques fall flat only makes us yearn for the beloved classics. Let’s hope Disney can recapture that special touch once again.
The movie “Wish” will be released in US theaters on November 22nd and in the UK on November 24th.