With “Wish,” Disney Animation celebrates its 100th anniversary with a film that bridges Walt’s era and the company’s modern sensibility. Directed by Chris Buck (“Frozen”) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (head of story for “Raya and the Last Dragon“), it’s an animated musical origin story about the magical wishing star with a painterly, 2D aesthetic in CG that’s every bit as impressive as “Across the Spider-Verse” in displaying the hand of the artist.

Disney Animation offered a 20-minute sneak peek at the upcoming film in mid-September at the El Capitan in Hollywood — and you can watch the latest trailer below. “Wish” is crucially about legacy and incorporating Disney’s beloved hand-drawn aesthetic with the studio’s latest digital tech. The designers and animators create a nostalgic watercolor look for the background paintings inspired by “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

For Jennifer Lee, Disney Animation’s chief creative officer and screenwriter of the “Frozen” franchise, writing “Wish” became a personal journey about understanding the essence of Walt and the existential meaning of wishes that are the DNA of his movies. In many ways, 17-year-old Asha (“West Side Story” Oscar winner Ariana DeBose) serves as an alter ego. She’s sharp-witted, idealistic, creative (she draws flipbooks), and wants to nurture people’s hopes and dreams.

However, Asha desperately makes the proverbial wish upon a star to save her medieval kingdom of Rosas (located off the Iberian Peninsula) from King Magnifico (Chris Pine), a sorcerer with the power to decide whose wishes can come true. Her wish magically summons Star, a yellow, cartoony, cosmic force that’s a mischievous nod to Mickey Mouse.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Jennifer Lee, CCO, Disney Animation Studios, speaks onstage for "Once Upon A Studio" at the Long Lead Press Day & In-Person Presentation for WISH and ONCE UPON A STUDIO at El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California on September 21, 2023. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)
Jennifer LeeAlberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

“For me, this was celebrating but going forward, in how we approached the building of the film,” Lee told IndieWire. “And it is the connection of going back to Walt saying, ‘You have to always be driving the story forward, taking risks, trying new things.’ But also this concept that we look back on a hundred years and there are elements of the fairy tales we’ve told that are worth celebrating, but doing it from a place of artistry and emotion so that we are making sure that we’re still doing our job, which is to push the storytelling forward.”

To that end, the tech team leveraged a digital drawing innovation from the Oscar-winning shorts “Paperman” and “Feast,” along with the watercolor CG short “Far From the Tree.” All three used the Academy Sci-Tech award-winning Meander system, which allows you to art direct, frame-by-frame, where you want the line art to be. There were also other hand-crafted advancements developed for “Wish” to get the watercolor look, including compositing accurate 2D representations of the artwork. “Frozen” production designers Michael Giaimo, David Womersley, and Lisa Keene took a deep dive into the illustrated inspirations for classic Disney fairy tales for this digital re-imagining.

“I think with ‘Wish,’ what we were realistic about with ourselves is based on where we are technology-wise, the schedules, what we do,” added Lee. “Not going backwards from the power of CG and what it’s given us, but really pushing to make sure that the hand-drawn is coming with it. Every frame is built layer upon layer. And when you can get Lisa Keene’s painting to resonate and then become not just three-dimensional but actually animated, that was the ultimate goal for me.

“So will we do something that’s strictly hand-drawn only?” she continued. “We might. But I don’t know. There’s nothing saying we wouldn’t do that. But it’s a different way to build. It’s a different way to do it. It’s a different production system. All of those things we recognize, but we don’t want to be afraid of, so we have to continue that legacy. What I’m excited about is we’re seeing a celebration of the fact that animation isn’t here to mimic life. It’s here to transport you in a way that you can surrender to this whole other kind of world.”


Indeed, as part of the 100th celebration, the studio made a hybrid short, “Once Upon a Studio,” directed by Dan Abraham and Trent Correy (the “Once Upon a Snowman” short), in which 543 Disney characters from 85 films leap out of their photographs in the Roy E. Disney Animation building to gather for a group photo outside. All of the characters are newly animated (80 percent are hand-drawn) with their appropriate looks and all of the surviving voice talent (around 40) participated. The short, which debuts October 15 as part of “The Wonderful World of Disney: Disney’s 100th Anniversary Celebration” special on ABC, will qualify for Oscar consideration by screening a week at the El Capitan. It impressively included the work of five 2D interns (under the supervision of Disney hand-drawn legend Eric Goldberg), who are now on staff at the studio.

“‘Once Upon a Studio’ was so emotional for me, seeing the complete integration of our CG and hand-drawn characters together, and done in their technology,” Lee said. “Completely hand-drawn, completely CG, knit together. And, I think with just the live-action plates, we hadn’t done that.”

In terms of storytelling, “Wish” offers a fresh spin on the classic Disney fairy tale hero and villain. With her ultimate desire to grant the wish of her 100-year-old grandfather Sabino (Victor Garber), Asha applies to become Magnifico’s protege. At first, Magnifico sees Asha as a kindred spirit until Asha discovers that his plans are not completely altruistic.

“The big thing that made the concept of ‘Wish’ so delightful for us is that wishing is a part of us all around the world, but has different potential, different vulnerabilities, different dangers, but at the same time, always at the end, there’s aspiration,” Lee said. “To wish is an action. But that’s how the film started to actualize. And there’s also the power of when people come together and they share their wish, and the power of connection, the power of community.”


“Wish” also benefits from the musical storytelling contributions of Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy winner Benjamin Rice, who composed seven new songs. The standouts are “This Wish” (Asha’s “I want” song) and “I’m a Star” (a song in the forest where animals learn to talk, including Asha’s sidekick, a goat who wears pajamas and is voiced by Disney good luck charm Alan Tudyk).

“There’s a song [a duet between Asha and Magnifico] about what these wishes mean, and when it comes out, it’ll be clear there’s no greater way to help us connect emotionally than through song that is a part of your heart,” Lee said. “It’s like she’s holding pieces of our greatest wants and dreams and she’s feeling that power of the importance of them, the vulnerability. And Julie Michaels is incredible to capture that in song. They [Asha and Magnifico] both recognize the importance of these [wishes], how they matter to every person. What we love too in fairy tales is that they don’t just happen, you have to fight for them.”

 “Wish” will be released in theaters by Disney November 22.

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