Film Review: Wish doesn’t quite conjure the usual Disney magic

There’s been a lot of chatter around Wish and the fact that its release celebrates Disney’s centennial, where the major theme across a heft of the studio’s films – that of wishes being granted – would be tied together.  It’s a sweet notion, without question, but it would appear that the creatives behind the film seem far too obsessed with referencing past glories that they forgot to build a compelling story of their own.

You’ll spot such cute Easter Eggs throughout that reference past titles as Peter Pan and Zootopia, but Wish‘s own personality is compromised in the process, and it’s truly a shame as Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn‘s musical tale isn’t without its charm.  And a lot of that charm stems from the lead vocal work of Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine, the heroine and villain of the piece, who sing and swan their way through the film’s thankfully brisk 95 minute run time.

DeBose voices the sweetly Asha, a 17-year-old girl, who lives in Rosas, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and, as we gather from her opening jingle (“Welcome to Rosas”), is a champion of her little village.  Gearing up for an interview to be the apprentice for Rosas’ King Magnifico (Pine, divine), Asha is hoping that in snaring such a position she can grant the wish of her 100-year-old grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber).

You see, Magnifico, having studied sorcery, is able to grant the greatest desires of his subjects; each of them give up the memory of their wishes to be sealed and protected by the king until he can grant them. Once a month, at a ceremonial event, Magnifico chooses one wish to be granted.  It’s a little convoluted, but it works.

We all know nothing is exactly going to go to plan, and when Asha’s quizzical nature gets the better of her, she angers Magnifico, who reveals that sweet Sabino’s wish is just “too dangerous” to grant.  Asha pleads in its actuality of inspiring the next generation or to simply return Sabino’s wish to him (there’s another plot point about the subject forgetting their own wish once they speak it into the universe), but it’s to no avail and the young lass loses any chance of an apprenticeship and returns home defeated.

Given Magnifico’s enhanced thirst for power, Wish feels quite telegraphed in its narrative footing, and, unsurprisingly, a little rogue magic comes into play; Asha’s “wish upon a star” manifests into a physical form, granting the forest creatures the ability to talk (and sing), which extends itself to her trusty goat sidekick, Valentino (a scene-stealing Alan Tudyk).  From hereon it’s standard Disney fare, and whilst many other House of Mouse products have resigned to the same structure, Wish never manages to elevate itself beyond such, with its musical arrangements failing to leave much of an impression, despite the best efforts of its cast; it must be said that DeBose truly has such a wonderful tone.

Despite reuniting the Frozen duo of director Buck and screenwriter Jennifer Lee, the emotional resonance and rapid wit that so often pepper Disney outings is lacking across Wish, and as much fun as there is to be had in finding the “ghosts” of Disney’s past throughout, the gimmick can only hide so much.

By no means is Wish a complete misfire, more that it’s decidedly average.  It’s harmless and light, and Asha makes for a fine additive into the annals of Disney princess-dom (even though she’s not really a princess in the traditional sense), but in knowing what the studio is capable of, and in banking so much on this film’s relation to the centennial, we can’t help but wish for something a little more impactful.

TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Wish is screening in Australian theatres from Boxing Day, December 26th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.