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Disney’s “Wish” is quite possibly their worst picture yet

The official Disney movie poster for “Wish.” The film aimed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney Animation Studios. PUBLIC DOMAIN

The 2023 Disney animated film “Wish” aimed to celebrate Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 100th anniversary with a story based on one of its main themes, wishing; instead, it is an amalgamation of everything wrong with the corporation.

“Wish” tells the story of Asha, voiced by Ariana DeBose, a citizen of the Kingdom of Rosas who is striving for a position where she can work for the king. The kingdom is known for its magical king, who extracts the wishes of his citizens and stores them in orbs, granting one once a month. But everything in Rosas is not as it seems; King Magnifico, voiced by Chris Pine, reveals his malicious true colors when Asha threatens his power over the kingdom. 

Since its inception in 1923, Walt Disney Animation Studios has been at the forefront of two-dimensional (2D) animation. Its short films were some of the first to include sound, and the 1937 film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was its first animated feature length film. The studio’s technological inventions such as Fantasound and the multiplane camera redefined Hollywood filmmaking.

Now in the era of three-dimensional (3D) computer animation, the studio has faced challenges in keeping up with competitors. “Wish” intended to revive the studio’s legacy by going back to the studio’s roots: a fairy tale princess musical. Instead, production issues such as poor visuals, uninteresting songs, underdeveloped characters and an excessive reliance on humorous references have combined to create one of the worst Disney animated films released in decades. 

Disney tried to experiment with the visual style of this film. After the recent success and popularity of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” it was clear that audiences are looking for media that is new and more exciting than the traditional Disney/Pixar realism style. “Wish” is a blend of 2D visuals on 3D assets. While it is an interesting concept, it ultimately looks more like a demo than a finished product and can be quite disengaging. The animation itself is excellent as always, but is let down by the underdeveloped artistic style.

Disney is best known for its musicals. Its catalog is filled with classics that anybody could sing along to, and recent hits from “Frozen” and “Encanto” dominated the Billboard charts. You could not go anywhere without hearing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” in 2022. The soundtrack for “Wish,” surprisingly, falls flat. Unfortunately, the music commits the worst crime a Disney song can: being forgettable. 

The underwhelming impact of the songs from “Wish” is apparent. This lack of memorability contrasts with the typical Disney song legacy, known for being catchy and iconic. While the songs may be decent in quality, they fail to leave a lasting impression once you leave the theater. 

As “Wish” celebrates the studio’s 100th anniversary, it incorporates numerous Disney Easter eggs. Some of them are small items hidden away in shots that quickly flash by. My favorite was a reference to the poison apple from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” while others include musical references such as songs from “Encanto” throughout the score. The more obvious ones were specific characters and lines that emulated or referenced the older films, contributing to the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the studio’s 100-year milestone.

The Easter eggs in “Wish” added a fun element throughout the film, even though a majority of them were overbearing. Spotting them became an enjoyable part of the watching experience. However, the joy of finding the Easter eggs suddenly shattered in the final scenes of the film when several references were directly called out at the end of the movie, spoon feeding the secrets to the viewers. All of a sudden, it felt like the movie was looking down on its audience, rather than including them in the secret. Not noticing the Easter eggs would not make the film worse, but calling them out in this manner definitely does.

On a more positive note, there are some thematic callbacks that offer enjoyable moments. One scene featured a shot of Asha looking up at the stars, a nod to the countless Disney characters who have done so in the past, from Geppetto in “Pinocchio” to Princess Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog.” Another callback was a shot of the wish orbs soaring into the sky, reminiscent of the lantern scene in “Tangled.” While these scenes were beautiful, my favorite parts of the movie were those that took inspiration from earlier works. 

A reference that made the film worse were Asha’s friends, who were based on the seven dwarfs. This would have been fun in small doses, but their entire personalities are based on the personas from the 1937 film and lack meaningful development. The fact that these characters are only included to be references is a serious problem within the film. Their inclusion feels more like fodder for an Easter eggs listicle rather than original characters you should care about. 

This problem with “Wish” is indicative of broader challenges faced by the Disney corporation this year. In 2019, they had seven films gross over $1 billion. This year, they suffered five flops, two films that broke even and one hit that didn’t reach $1 billion at the domestic box office. The collective shift in audience preferences is clear: viewers are no longer willing to see something because it is familiar; the content needs to be high quality. Being part of a franchise or including a bunch of references will not make a movie a hit anymore. 

“Wish” stands as a disappointing Disney movie on many levels. From its visuals to its songs to its references, the film struggled on many fronts. Hopefully, Walt Disney Animation Studio learns from these mistakes, returning to the creation of beloved classic films. For now, it is probably better to just watch “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” instead.

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