By: Russ Matthews
Over the years, one of the most reliable events on the cinematic calendar was the release of a Disney animated film over the Thanksgiving (US) weekend.
The House of Mouse has dominated this weekend with films like Frozen to Moana for years. Yet, the landscape has changed as other animation production companies have become prominent, and the COVID hangover still impacts cinemagoers’ choices. Within this new landscape, Disney needs to regain its dominance of this critical release date again. Still, Wish might have the formula to help the studio regain its former glory.
The dream team of director Chris Buck and screenwriter Jennifer Lee behind the fan-favourite Frozen have been working on this project since 2018. They have been tasked with getting the production house back on track and helping us all celebrate 100 years of Disney animated adventures. This gets them back to the formula of decades of work with a determined and charismatic 17-year-old female lead named Asha (Ariana DeBose) and her faithful, cute sidekick goat, Valentino (Alan Tudyk).
The young woman is interviewing for the role of the king’s apprentice. King Magnifico (Chris Pine) is a great sorcerer who, along with his wife Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral), established the kingdom of Rosas on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. The monarch has ruled the people by holding onto their greatest wishes and granting those dreams to the ones who will benefit the community. Yet, after Asha meets with the beloved king, she realises his intentions for the community’s wishes are not as beneficial as the people may have thought. This leads her to look to the stars for direction to know what to do with this information, and the heavens answer with a wishing star that may be the solution to answering the people’s requests. The only challenge is getting the wishes away from the controlling hands of the king.
The weight of expectation in this film can be felt across the industry, and things look promising with the opening song of ‘Welcome to Rosas’ that introduces audiences to this new world. Reminiscent of Encanto and Moana, the music calms the soul with its familiar look and feel. The animation is a fascinating combination of computer generation and hand-drawn imagery that gives this production a fresh look that is innovative and retrospective at the same time.
Ariana DeBose’s voice is ideally suited for the lead role, and she carries this film from the opening to the recognisable conclusion. Alan Tudyk’s Valentino gets all of the best jokes and Disney fans will have fun trying to find the nods to other classic animated films that pop up throughout the storyline to honour 100 years of animated memories. Yet, like the secret plans of Magnifico, there is something wrong behind the scenes of this movie that only becomes evident after leaving the cinema.
Interestingly, the issues with this film are not with the storyline. Those who have followed Disney’s go-to story anchors of following your heart’s desire will not be offended by the primary messaging. Also, most of their films have been female-led productions designed for this audience. These aspects may give fodder for the Youtube avengers, who must find the problems with Disney to gain more views. Yet, these aren’t the issues to be concerned about with Wish. The three critical struggles with this film are the music, the villain, and lack of a love interest. What usually occurs in the car ride home after screening the latest Disney musical is how one cannot get the songs out of your ear. From ‘Let it Go’ to ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’, for better or worse, a tune will stick in the heart for days. This soundtrack fails to produce this aspect, making the music as forgettable as the villagers’ wishes. Then there is the lack of any love interest to provide the heart to propel this magical tale forward. Disney fails to see that having a strong male lead to support their heroine along the way helps make for a well-rounded storyline with broader appeal. Finally, Magnifico will not go down as one of the great Disney villains. Chris Pine does an admirable job in this role. Still, his character fails to cross the line of true villainy and is more comical than terrifying.
Wish seems to suffer from immense expectations, and in its desire to appeal to every societal norm, leaving this story to stand for nothing. It is a tale that wishes to be something more than it is and shows that Disney needs to get back to what it used to do so well: making innovative family entertainment that doesn’t preach, but merely entertains.
For those who have been along for the ride over the last 100 years of Disney productions, there is no surprise that the driving force is a belief in oneself as key messaging. Parents need to determine if this element squares with their belief system when taking their family to the cinema. Also, there are scarier elements that make this inaccessible for younger viewers.
For those families who get along to Wish over the holidays, there are many discussion points of belief, community, and prayer. Instead of believing in the stars and trusting one’s heart, there is a God who cares for humanity and hears our requests.
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. – Hebrews 10:35-36
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.
All images: Movie stills
About the author: Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.