Film reviews and more since 2009

Wish (2023) review

Dir. Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

We’ve arrived at the point where it’s not only safe but accurate to say that Disney has been in a creative rut. Excluding some recently strong Pixar films, where the magic still remains, Disney’s streak of underwhelming original animated films continues with Wish, their most vapid and hollow film of the decade thus far.

Wish is soulless enough to make me reflect on Strange World, last year’s Thanksgiving release courtesy of the Mouse House, with fonder memories. Sure, it was a film brought down by its lack of involvement with the very world it created, but it showed Disney taking a creative risk ala Atlantis: The Lost Empire. However, as was the case with that film, the box office receipts came up very short and has led us to this terribly forgettable celebration of Disney in search of purpose and inspiration.

Set in the pitifully underdeveloped location known as Rosas, Wish revolves around Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose, West Side Story), a 17-year-old girl who is beyond nervous to interview for an apprenticeship under King Magnifico (Chris Pine). Rosas operates on wishes made by the townspeople. Once a person makes a wish, it becomes its own singular bubble, safeguarded in the King’s tower (they also promptly forget what their wish was). During an annual ceremony, Magnifico chooses to grant one wish. But it’s abundantly clear to Asha during her interview that Magnifico is more infatuated with hoarding wishes than granting them. All she wants is for her 100-year-old grandfather Sabino (Victor Garber) to see his wish granted, but her ruler (foolishly) believes that his wish is too dangerous for the land of Rosas.

After learning the truth about the beloved King, Asha helplessly wishes upon a Star, who then falls from the sky and helps the teenager kickstart a revolution against Magnifico. During one of the film’s many musical numbers, the Star’s first move is to give all the woodland creatures the ability to talk and sing to the point where Asha starts to believe in herself again. The portly talking bear will remind you of Baloo from The Jungle Book. A singing deer will steer your mind to Bambi. These unsubtle callbacks might lead you to believe you’re watching a good movie. Don’t fall for them.

Wish is so lackluster that even Asha’s cute and cuddly goat named Valentino (Alan Tudyk) becomes a nuisance very early into what is an already slight 85-minute film sans credits. Once he’s given the ability to speak, Valentino proves to be a cloying presence. He bumbles and fumbles his way around the movie, and his dialog feels like someone tried to create another precious Disney side-character by resorting to ChatGPT.

While some of the songs — written by Dave Metzger, Julia Michaels, and Benjamin Rice — generally possess nice melodies and a handful of enjoyable compositions, there’s clearly no “Let it Go” amongst any of them. The musical numbers do function as momentary bursts of energy for a film in desperate need of some. I particularly enjoyed Magnifico’s number “This is the Thanks I Get?!,” which comes after Magnifico addresses the people of Rosas regarding the “dangerous magical star” that has infiltrated their community. Watching the vain and egotistical Magnifico throw a tantrum throughout his kingdom while still adoring himself in every mirror was the kind of mood-boost this film needed.

Despite being predicated on concepts such as wishing, remaining hopeful, and magic, Wish‘s concept feels like it’s actively manufacturing all three of its core components. With Asha’s gaggle of friends remaining wholly undeveloped, and the land of Rosas being relegated to a pretty backdrop, the film gives the impression that its existence is primarily as source material to draw upon for theme park rides and merchandise. To be fair, all Disney films function on this plane to some degree, but the great ones give us a good movie experience to go along with the marketing aspect.

Wish is a waste of beautiful animation — CGI curated to recall the stylings of Disney’s hand-drawn animation days — and its end credits, which show beloved Disney characters like Snow White and Pinocchio scribbled out of stardust leave one wishing that they put their Disney+ subscription to good use and went back and watched one of those films instead.

NOTE: Wish is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Voiced by: Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Evan Peters, and Jon Rudnitsky. Directed by: Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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