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“Wish” Upon a Screenplay

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 21st, 2023

Film poster: “Wish”

Wish (Chris Buck/Fawn Veerasunthorn, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.

The best part of the new Disney film, Wish, is its story. Though somewhat cobbled together from past films about plucky protagonists triumphing despite seemingly insurmountable odds, it features a strong central character and a three-dimensional villain. The narrative through line engages from start to finish, and the stakes are high without reaching the mind-numbing Marvel-like levels of yet another end-of-the-world crisis. It’s just too bad the music is so forgettable and the animation so bland.

To be fair on that last point, it’s possible the problem was the projector in the cinema in which I saw the movie. Still, the herky-jerky movements of the onscreen figures and the unexceptional colors and unpleasant digital look of the entire picture cannot be entirely attributed to poor venue management. This may not be great Disney, but it traffics in solid themes of identity and agency that should prove rousing to viewers young and old, alike.

Asha (Ariana DeBose) in WISH ©2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

The plot follows Asha (Ariana DeBose, West Side Story), as she follows through on her ambition to the be the King of Rosas’ new apprentice. King Magnifico (Chris Pine, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) founded the realm as a haven from the problems of the outside world, a universe where his own family and community had once suffered great losses. A powerful magician, Magnifico has set up a system where his subjects offer up their wishes in an occasional ceremony and, if they are lucky enough, he then grants the wish.

There’s a catch, however. Once the wish is made, the wisher forgets it, thereby losing a part of what makes them have dreams for the future. No one questions this aspect of it since it’s just the way things are. But on the eve of her grandfather’s 100th birthday, Asha hopes that his own wish might finally be granted. A nasty surprise is in store for her during her interview with the king.

l-r: Asha (Ariana DeBose) and King Magnfico (Chris Pine) in WISH ©2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

For it turns out that the sovereign has strong ideas about which wishes should be granted and why. His motivations may be rooted in good intentions (to protect everyone from danger), but the result is a removal of the free will that makes human beings celebrate being alive. Asha does not take well to the king’s reasoning.

And so she wishes upon a star, much like her beloved, deceased father once did with her by his side. What she does not expect is for the star to actually hear her and come down to Earth. Which it does. Much comic mayhem and mischief ensue.

Valentino the goat (Alan Tudyk) and a group of singing/dancing chickens in WISH ©2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

As do the rumblings of revolution, as the star’s magic inspires not only Asha, but her friends and family, to resist Magnifico’s increasingly autocratic rule. The story takes a turn for the delightful in these sequences, with all living things—flora and fauna, both—granted the power of speech and/or song. It’s too bad this latter skill is not better supported by a catchy score.

Despite the imaginative limitations of the movie, Wish nevertheless succeeds where it counts the most. If we feel like we’ve seen this journey before, we have, but not necessarily with these exact details. And with a good, diverse ensemble supporting the two stars, there’s plenty to appreciate amidst the occasional muddle. Did I wish for more? Yes, but I’ll settle for less.

l-r: l-r: Asha (Ariana DeBose) and the star in WISH ©2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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