Sunday, December 17, 2023


 "What we got was a film that felt like they held back from trying much new, a movie that felt safe, both in approach and in tone, with the only actual risk taken being the audience's patience for a tired formula."


    If you asked me what my least favorite Disney animated features were, I'd answer The Black Cauldron, Pocahontas, and Chicken Little. One is incredibly messy, lacking direction, the other is unintentionally racist and misguided, while the last is annoying, a tech demo that feels like a cheap imitation of the worst tendencies from rival studios and a nightmare to sit through. Disney Animation Studios has had other duds, but none quite match those, because the great thing about them is even the weaker ones tend to have a character, or moment, or something that makes them tolerable or even worth watching. Home On The Range had some neat character designs, The Sword In The Stone has Merlin, Madame Mim and Archimedes, and if I'm honest even the three films I'd say were their worst have some things going for them. Disney Animation may not always be top notch, but they know to make something in their duds worthwhile, be it the animation, or a song, or in the case of Chicken Little, a fun enough gag  where the characters watch a cheesy sci-fi movie adaptation of the events in movie. Now at their 100th anniversary, Disney chose to make their big, must see feature a homage to the works that made them beloved, an animated feature that is meant to answer the story of where the company's theme began, Wish, and if the earlier parts of this essay didn't make it clear, it fucking sucks.

     It honestly hurts to admit this, because as I've said before I do love Disney, they've made so many classics and even their duds tend to have some good things that make me appreciate their existence. Throughout the months leading up to Wish, I kept thinking it would at worst be okay, Disney has never been the greatest at selling their animated features beyond their legacy. There are exceptions, some movies had incredible trailers and marketing, but many tend to have awkward jokes, or the trailers ignore the emotional hooks, favoring the spectacle kids desire, despite most of these being family films. Half the time, if I'm going to watch a Disney feature, it's because of the studio and not the ads, so Wish having some boring, unappealing trailers didn't exactly kill my interest, I figured the movie would pull through in the end. Acknowledging the studio's weak marketing for plenty of their films, I will say that Wish was still an odd case, because even on those standards I felt the trailers just weren't doing it for me. Frozen, or even the previous feature, Strange World, both had pretty bad trailers, but even those had some appeal for me in that material, I never could get into anything Wish offered. The marketing for this movie can be summed up in three things, the animation which has a sort of 2D look over their CG, the villain, a first in what feels like forever for the studio, and the new "I Want" song (the term commonly associated for musical numbers where the lead expresses themselves and their desires) "This Wish". I'll dig into them more, but to quickly summarize them, the animation looked okay, but nowhere near as impressive, or groundbreaking as the works of competitors; the villain lacks focus, thus making him a mess, and with competitors delivering fun villains I didn't need it from Disney, and the song while good, just wasn't enough for me to care.

    Before getting into the plot and everything else, it's important to discuss the animation, which is a new step forward for the Disney studio, and animation is really the one place they always shine in, even in their weaker works, sadly not here. Admittedly this isn't the first Disney film to have lackluster animation, their first full on effort in CG animation was also pretty bad (Chicken Little) which like this was them experimenting with a new look. Where this feels a tad worse is that Chicken Little was released in 2005, a time where even a lot of the non-Pixar films looked bad, plus it was experimenting with relatively new tech for the time in it's 2D-esque style that doesn't work, but it was still being worked on. Wish came out years after Into The Spider-Verse, a movie that perfected the stylized 3D look that this is trying to capture. Worse still, is that we've seen other studios replicate the approach to success, in fact even Disney has made these great looking 2D-styled CG shorts, but as a full film, Wish never looks right. Since watching the movie, I've tried figuring out why it's put me off, I know many compare it to Disney Junior shows, but I think it's a mixture of odd choices. The backgrounds look much more like hand-painted scenery found in classic Disney films like Sleeping Beauty, the character designs are basically the same as those found in their 3D features, characters have details that would be more fitting for a standard 3D feature, and as a result of  certain lighting choices, sometimes the characters look either unfinished, or as if they've just been dropped into a setting they weren't meant for (sometimes Star doesn't appear to physically be there). If you look at Spider-VerseMutant Mayhem or even the various short attempts Disney made, you'll notice characters and settings often have hard lines in place of wrinkles, or hair, fur, of course this is to replicate a 2D look, but it also makes the effect look much better than a cheap filter. Wish doesn't look awful, but you can tell there was barely a commitment to the style, furry characters like squirrels or bears look odd because they look too detailed to be 2D creations, the human characters lose subtle emotional features on their faces because of the style overlapping the models, which is perhaps why Magnifico fares best with his more exaggerated reactions.

"Wish never looks right."

   With the animation out of the way, I should give you an idea of what this movie is about, I'll do my best not to spoil, but given how basic the movie is, I'm not sure it matters. Wish tells the story of Asha, a teen who loves her home so much, the Kingdom of Rosas. Asha works as a tour guide, inviting immigrants from all over to live in peace and worship the ruler of the land, King Magnifico who is unsurprisingly our villain. The main hook is that Magnifico is a sorcerer who can grant wishes, but to grant them, people must give him their wishes upon entering adulthood. At first what seems to be a perfect fairy tale land reveals itself to be the product of a conceited ruler, interested in serving himself, Asha, upon learning this, decides to wish for more for the people, leading to a wishing star coming down to her. With a magical star (named Star) at her side, Asha decides the king should no longer be the only one to decide what wishes are worth granting.

    So I'll be honest, as basic as this movie is, I feel it's easy to make it seem complex, and that's because the movie's world doesn't really make sense. The movie's incredibly basic and simple, yet they have a lot of weird rules regarding the "fairy tale" aspect of it all. So King Magnifico can grant wishes because he has magic, fair enough, but wishes aren't a thing you just say, they're from within you, like dreams or life goals, okay, but why? Disney films have had various characters wish for things, Snow White wished for love, Geppetto wished for a son, even Rapunzel wished to see the lanterns up close, these aren't things that they wanted all their life, these are desires they had for a moment, I guess Rapunzel's was a life long one, but only because she'd never seen it up close. In Wish, it's made clear that giving your wish away results in you forgetting it, which then just makes one question why anyone would want their wish granted after giving it away. Let's do a hypothetical, if one's wish is to be a master chef, and upon giving it to Magnifico they forget said wish, would they forget their years of studying the craft? Won't people find it weird when they notice said person no longer wants to talk about cooking? Or do they only forget they wanted to improve their skill? Which then still results in people questioning their drive? It's an all around bizarre bit of worldbuilding, especially because a wish is not the same as a goal half the time. If you gave me a wish I'd probably ask for riches to cover my well being, my interests and yes my dreams, but in the world of this movie, my wish for riches would be a goal I was striving towards. I bring all this up because in the film, Asha, is mostly focused on trying to get her grandfather's wish granted for his 100th birthday (get it?) the wish being that he wants to be an inspiring musician, but if he forgot that he probably wouldn't care by that point. Assuming grandpa has lived for decades without remembering this wish (it's never made clear) wouldn't he have gotten new desires since then? At his age he'll barely have time to inspire anyone, besides a conglomerate in need of a theme song I guess.

    Surprisingly, even the effects of losing your wish in the world makes little sense. Giving your wish away makes you forget it (Or the king makes you forget it? That's still iffy to me) but it also makes you compliant, less motivated, at least that's the assumption based on one of Asha's friends. The problem with this supposed angle is that the one character we see affected by this, is the only character we see unmotivated by having given their wish away, weirder still is that it's a character who's meant to be a reference to Sleepy of the seven dwarves. It would've been nice of the film to show people being aimless, or boring, but we don't get that. so it's just a thing we're told. Also there's not really any reason to suggest it makes people compliant, when we don't even see people standing up against or even protesting Magnifico until the climax and by that point he's just full blown evil. One has to ask how the society even works if no one is inspired to do much? It gets worse when the film turns the act of wishes being destroyed into a threat, the stakes we should be concerned over. Consider it a mild spoiler I suppose, but the film's villain realizes that by destroying wishes, his magic grows, thus he does so, which results in people getting depressed, but only for a while because we see a character lose their wish and soon after they seem okay, so it doesn't really feel like a threat. I feel like every time I acknowledge this development I'm either making it up, or I'm describing a pre-school show, but that's really how it plays out. If wishes are important in this world, maybe losing one should make you feel more than sad for a day or two, maybe people could fall incredibly ill, or lose all free will, instead it's a minor inconvenience.

    It's pretty clear that the mechanics of the world don't fall quite into place, but Wish doesn't have characters to make us forget the shortcomings there. Main character Asha is your typical modern Disney heroine, an awkward girl who just wants to help, with her goal mainly being about seeing her grandfather get his wish, noble sure, but that doesn't make her very compelling, especially with so little in the way of an arc. Now let's talk about grandpa, essentially this film's beating heart, at first I thought the marketing was hiding him, it turns out he's barely even in the film. Here we can see how compromised the film's script was, Asha mentions a dead father inspired her love of stars, but what drives her story is her grandfather who is nice I guess, but he doesn't offer much in the way of emotional support, and then we have a mother who doesn't do much, except get hurt by the villain. There's way too many characters and not enough story to go around, they could've collapsed the three parental figures into one and it probably would've strengthened the story, if grandpa is driving Asha's journey, why not have him get hurt to up the stakes? Instead the mother gets hurt, but we know so little it doesn't even matter. Even the friends don't add much, cute as the seven dwarves homage may be, the film does so little with each that outside the Grumpy, Sleepy and maybe Doc analogues, there's really no reason to have it be seven. Would it be a true Disney celebration without sidekicks? Of course not, so we get two of those, because we don't have enough characters, a star named Star, who instigates the plot against the king, it's adorable, an effective marketing ploy (I bought one...) despite the lack of character. The other sidekick, is much worse, Valentino the goat, he's just there to please kids, but his gags are tired and too juvenile, which is a shame as he's voiced by Alan Tudyk who I normally enjoy in movies. With such a large cast, I'm kinda amazed that none of them feel particularly well thought out, I enjoyed Star sure, but mostly because Star is cute, but there's barely much else there.

    A true Disney celebration should at least carry some good music, if not the cast, or the world, that has to work... Well of course you probably know how this works out. The trailers leading up to the movie mostly used one song, "This Wish", and I get why, it's a pretty good song, catchy, well sung, just enjoyable, I figured this choice was to avoid spoiling the rest of the songs, turns out they might've known they had some duds in this. In truth I figured the music might be bad once they started revealing the songs, a week at a time until the release. We had a villain song that sounded off, a poor imitation of an Encanto song and then the forest animal song was revealed and I just hated it. I'm sure the song writers were well intentioned, but learning that they were just pop song writers with no experience doing a musical just explained so much to me. Every song in this is either obnoxious, rushed, filled with slang that's awkward in how it sounds like rap, but bad, or at their worst, all around wrong for the intent. There's a duet between Asha and the king, it's meant to showcase their views on wishes, but the song is played romantically, which was apparently so that it could be played as a love song in events, a bizarre choice that is in no way how musicals should work.

    Every poor choice Wish makes eventually leads to one character, the villain himself, King Magnifico. It's strange, he's the closest thing to a good, complex role in this film, but every issue the film has coalesces with him, making him the prime example of what went wrong with the movie. He's meant to be a tribute to classic Disney villainy, but they awkwardly give him tragic character beats, he's meant to be a big explosive threat, but none of his actions ever feel like threats, his song is too upbeat and whiny for a paranoid character who falls into villainy, he is a complete mess. I won't pretend to know what happened during the process of the film, but it does feel like Magnifico's introduction and his reveal as the villain are two different scripts coming together. The introduction for King Magnifico suggests he's a kind, understanding ruler, who due to a tragedy may have some paranoia, but the second we realize he's evil, the movie never really keeps up with the tragic approach. Magnifico just throws hissy fits, displays his own vanity and selfishness, all before he uses an evil book that makes him evil, which is an odd plot point given he already was doing evil things. In the end it doesn't really matter because Magnifico is never really a threat, the most he does is destroy wishes, which make people sad for some time (it seems temporary by the end) steal powers (which doesn't seem to do much) and trap people, that's it. Aside from one character he controls, Magnifico never mind controls his citizens which would be something, he never kills anyone, he's just mean, which isn't threatening. Think of your favorite Disney villains, Ursula tries to kill Ariel after turning her father and many other's into little seaweed creatures, Maleficent curses an entire kingdom and nearly kills the prince, even Gaston threatens to condemn Belle's father to an asylum just to force Belle to marry him. Good villains need to create threats to make them a menace, nothing Magnifico does makes him a threat, he makes a person sad, but they seem fine for the climax, he chains the citizens to the ground, which is something, but we never know what's his end goal. Much like the hero, villains need goals, Scar wants to rule the land, the Evil Queen wants Snow White gone to remain the most beautiful person, King Magnifico is already a king and his role as king is not challenged, people just want their wishes, which fine, may cause problems, but we never know how, if he wins he's still king, he just won't grant wishes, so the world is mostly the same. This confusing mess of empty threats, lack of goals and an incoherent approach to villainy just feels like the movie summed up, characters with empty arcs, a lack of clever and unique ideas, and an incoherent story that is too basic to care about, but too complex to even feel like a bedtime story.

"Magnifico is never really a threat"

    It truly does hurt that Disney didn't succeed in their 100th anniversary feature, even something average would've felt better. What we got was a film that felt like they held back from trying much new, a movie that felt safe, both in approach and in tone, with the only actual risk taken being the audience's patience for a tired formula. The characters and songs are forgettable, the villain feels too safe and confused in concept and the animation feels less like a revolution and more like Disney poorly attempting to catch the same praise other studios have garnered from putting new styles over CG features. Wish was in dire need of several rewrites, or more confidence in the filmmakers rather than a confidence in audiences that don't ask for much, which as it turns out, even audiences are demanding more from what they watch... HA! I didn't make the obvious pun... Seriously though, it's wild how they made their worst feature the celebration of this big anniversary.

Written By Octaviano Macias

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