A brave young woman who comes into her own via mild danger and zippy musical numbers: check. Talking animals: check. An adorable sidekick of indeterminate origin: check. A menacing evildoer who traffics mostly in scary green magic: check. A world populated almost exclusively by sweet citizens who continuously break into song: check. Dead parent: check check check! For its latest original animated outing, Disney sticks to the usual trappings with a few twists here and there, most of them appealing to moviegoing families desperate for a new film to entertain kiddos to over the holidays.

Co-directed by veteran Chris Buck (“Frozen”) and first-time director Fawn Veerasunthorn (a long-time story artist, known for her work on “Moana” and “Raya and the Last Dragon”), “Wish” feels superficially familiar but contains some canny contemporary trappings that hint at a new direction for Disney. Co-written by Buck, Jennifer Lee (Disney Animation’s chief creative officer and “Frozen” maestro), and Allison Moore, “Wish” bumps up some classic elements (self-determination! caring for others! song!) and tones others way down (our heroine is a 17-year-old girl without a love interest to be seen — she’s mostly interested in her family and incredibly large circle of friends).

Despite its literal storybook opening, “Wish” offers up a magical island untethered to other fairy tales. The people of Rosas are a diverse cast of characters; they’re immigrants seeking a new life in this thriving city on the Mediterranean. (There’s also a decidedly medieval England bent that Disney can’t quite shake.) Their beloved King Magnifico (voiced by a boisterous Chris Pine) promises new opportunities via his own magical skills (we’re told he acquired his powers through personal passion and boundless scholarship, as inspired by some light childhood trauma).

THIS WISH – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” Asha is invited to see where King Magnfico keeps all of the wishes given to him by those in his kingdom. Featuring the voices of Academy Award®-winning actress Ariana DeBose as Asha and Chris Pine as King Magnifico, the epic animated musical “Wish” hits the big screen on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

While the promise of Rosas sounds great on paper — tell King Magnifico your wish when you turn 18, and he just might grant it! — there’s rules surrounding this wish-giving that make the whole thing start to sound far less, well, magical. Turns out once you tell the king your wish, you forget it. This inevitably imbues most of the otherwise happy denizens of Rosas with a gentle sadness they can’t quite name. And, as our heroine Asha (voiced by the delightful Ariana DeBose) soon learns during the world’s worst job interview with the king (one part shocking revelations, two parts charming duet singing), Magnifico will only grant wishes he thinks are good for Rosas. The wishes — depicted here as glowing, floating blue orbs — don’t belong to Magnifico, but he sure seems to think he’s in charge of them.

Asha, a lifelong resident of Rosas who loves her community so much that she giddily gives tours to prospective new citizens and hopes to snag a gig as the king’s apprentice (the best job on the island, we’re told), realizes the latent evil of this plan almost immediately. After all, her beloved grandfather (voiced by Victor Garber) has just turned 100 and his wish has never been granted, even though it’s a lovely, beautiful, and pure-hearted dream that mostly involves setting up Rosas and its younger generation for success. What could possibly be wrong with that? For control freak King Magnifico, lots.


Horrified by the truth of her kingdom, a heartbroken Asha (plus baby goat sidekick Valentino, eventually voiced by Alan Tudyk) hightails it for her favorite place on the island (one she, naturally, associates with her dead and beloved father), a massive tree that juts out over the land, practically right into the sky. And, when Asha issues her own wish (no king necessary!), the full force and power of her plea pulls a star from the sky (depicted as a giggly, squishy lil’ guy who will inevitably spawn a whole run of giggly, squishy lil’ plush toys), with Star landing on Rosas, hellbent on helping Asha and her people. (This is all, it must be said, very cute.)

Star’s own powers are a little fuzzy, but the first thing it does is spread stardust all over Asha, Valentino, and a whole mess of woodland flora and fauna (mushrooms, trees, rabbits, deer, owls, bears, and more — oh my!), leading to a truly psychedelic and mildly hallucinogenic song-and-dance that, best we can tell, will do wonders to teach kiddos we’re all made of literal star-stuff. (It will also, we’re guessing, push a few traumatized tykes into an early interest in veganism.) “I’m a Star” is one of the best musical offerings of “Wish,” which toggles between new classic and forgettable ditty with startling regularity (anything and everything Pine sings is memorable, just as anything and everything DeBose sings at least sounds awesome).

ASHA’S PLIGHT – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ epic musical “Wish,” Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) and her pajama-wearing pet goat, Valentino (voice of Alan Tudyk), live in the magical kingdom of Rosas, where wishes really do come true. But when Asha discovers a devastating truth about everyone’s wishes, she turns to the sky. Her wish is so powerful, it’s answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

The Disney team used the Academy Sci-Tech award-winning Meander digital drawing system to craft “Wish,” which often looks painterly and hand-made (especially when focused on Asha and her adorable freckles, realistic braids, and genuinely charming overall look). It also dazzles during the bigger setpieces but becomes muddled when it comes to quieter moments and sequences involving larger crowds. Stay focused on Asha, Star, and the increasingly insane Magnifico (Pine is clearly having a great time here, and it shows), and “Wish” will go down easy.

Perhaps too easy. As Disney celebrates its 100th year, “Wish” serves as a throwback to the past, a celebration of the present, and a gentle push into the future. (That said, its repeated mentions of “Peter Pan” feel weird and out of place.) Asha’s journey is a classic one, but her biracial background, the immigrant story at its heart, her diverse group of friends, and skipping a love-interest subplot hint at something more subversive, something more timely, something more interesting afoot in the House of Mouse. That’s what we wish to see more of, and soon.

Grade: B-

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Wish” in theaters on Wednesday, November 22.

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