Action/Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Ariana DeBose as Asha; Chris Pine as King Magnifico; Alan Tudyk as Valentino; Angelique Cabral as Queen Amaya; Victor Garber as Sabino; Natasha Rothwell as Sakina; Jennifer Kumiyama as Dahlia; Harvey Guillén as Gabo; Niko Vargas as Hal; Evan Peters as Simon; Ramy Youssef as Safi; Jon Rudnitsky as Dario; Della Saba as Bazeema
Chris Buck; Fawn Veerasunthorn
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
November 22, 2023
Wishes come true in the Kingdom of Rosas.
In a manner of speaking, this enchanted kingdom was built on wishes. Once upon a time, King Magnifico had watched his own wish crumble. Never again, Magnifico vowed.
And so he created a kingdom with that in mind. He crammed his well-coifed head full of helpful magic to ensure that wishes would never die there. Residents would give him their wishes (in the forms of little bubbles) and he’d keep them all safe in his palace. And honestly, no one even knows what they’re missing when they turn wishes over to Magnifico, because they immediately forget what they were!
Once a month, Magnifico, being the generous, magical guy that he is, will select one of those safely stored wishes and grant it to the wisher. Free of charge. What a great guy, right?
Well, pretty much everyone in Rosas would agree that Magnifico is indeed a great guy. Such skills! Such kindness! Such hair! So naturally, when Asha has the opportunity to become Magnifico’s newest assistant, she’s a wee bit star struck. Who wouldn’t want to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the king?
But during her interview with the king, Asha asks for just one teensy-weensy little favor. Would he, could he, consider granting her grandfather’s wish? I mean, he is turning 100 years old during the day’s wishing ceremony. And it’d mean ever so much to him.
Magnifico is not a big fan of people asking favors of him during job interviews. But he sighs and takes a quick look at grandpappy’s dearest desire. It seems innocent enough, at least to Asha: The old guy simply wants to do something inspirational. How nice.
But Magnifico doesn’t find the wish nice at all. Why, what if the old man inspired, say, a revolution?
No, the only wishes he grants are those that benefit the whole of Rosas. That wish feels just a little too … dangerous.
While that might be all well and good for some, Asha believes that makes for something rotten in the state of Rosas. The king, as wise and handsome as he may be, is wrong. So Asha’s determined to take back her grandfather’s wish, and her mother’s wish, too—and return them to their rightful owners.
But how? She just might need a little extra help to do it. A little celestial help.
The wishes we see in Wish are not your ordinary, everyday sort of wishes, like, “Man, I wish I didn’t have to go to the dentist this afternoon.” No, we’re talking about big, Disney-like wishes. I wish I could captain a boat instead of sweeping the cobblestones. I wish I could have a child. I wish that I could fly.
The movie suggests that these deepest wishes are critical parts of who we are—whether those wishes come true or not. So when they’re taken from the people of Rosas, those people are not fully themselves. And when those wishes are literally crushed, part of the wisher’s soul is crushed, too.
One could perhaps debate the story’s logic here. But if we accept that premise on its face, taking away those wishes—even for safe-keeping, as Magnifico says—feels morally dubious. And when Asha learns that many of those wishes may never be granted and will never be given back, her quest to return those wishes becomes something of a righteous imperative. Accordingly, Asha shows a great deal of courage in the face of some staggering odds (if, again, we accept the movie’s premise).
This becomes not just a personal fight, but ultimately a communal one, a quest akin to a righteous rebellion against tyranny. As Magnifico grows evermore out of control, more people join Asha’s fight, all of whom risk a lot. You don’t have to squint too hard to see echoes of all manner of democratic uprisings in Wish: It criticizes totalitarianism in all its forms—even those supposedly built on helping its people.
We should note that Wish also abandons the idea that wishing alone will make wishes come true. The film suggests that most wishes require hard work to realize—if they’re even possible at all. And that’s nice to see.
Wish is obviously saturated with all sorts of magic. Magnifico is revered for being one of the most powerful magicians ever, having studied all sorts of magical strains for (he says and largely believes) the benefit of his people.
Magnifico’s library is filled with tons of magical books, including one filled with dark, “forbidden” magic. That tome of spells and incantations reflects a slightly more Christian understanding of magic: His wife reminds him that magicians who use that book are, ultimately, used by that magic for its/their own nefarious purpose. One can see that the spell book becomes an almost sinful temptation for Magnifico—one that comes with grave consequences.
But Magnifico’s magic is not the only form of magic we see here. Asha herself turns to the starry sky and, essentially, calls down a wishing star—a call that shakes the magical kingdom (and Magnifico himself) to its core.
That brings us to one of the more curious spiritual elements that Wish gives us. The song that triggers the star’s visit to Rosas includes the line, “I look up at the stars to guide me.” Neither God nor gods play a role in wish, but rather the stars. Why? Because, Wish tells us, we have some weird connection to them chemically, apparently.
This thought feels like it was inspired by a statement made by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: “We are stardust.” Our molecular makeup, the agnostic deGrasse Tyson contends, can be traced to stars that exploded billions of years ago.
The movie pushes that thought another step, apparently arguing that we have, in our molecular makeup, some sort of memory of those exploding balls of gas. In another song, fittingly titled “I’m a Star,” we’re asked, “Have you ever wondered why you look up at the sky for answers?” It’s because we’re made of the same stuff that stars are, we learn, and the song goes into a fairly complex, utterly scientific diatribe into how we came to be. (“See, we were all just little nebulae in a nursery from supernovas/Now we’ve grown into our history/We’re taking why’s right out of mystery.”) The song also contends that that’s also why the flowers look so pretty and why trees have rings. Oh, and when we eat plants, we’re naturally eating more star stuff because, I guess, photosynthesis?
This is a prime tenant of Wish throughout. Magnifico even tells us that he got his magnificent “genes from outer space.”
So, in essence, Wish gives us a strictly naturalistic, arguably atheistic worldview and stuffs it with oodles of supernatural magic.
Characters concoct strange magical artifacts in creepy workshops. The star allows animals to talk and turns various things into various other things. Wishes float about like balloons. Magnifico sings about how he put “the I in omnipotent.” Asha sings at one point, “Isn’t the truth suppose to set you free?” referencing a biblical passage.
The sexual identity of one of Asha’s friends, Gabo, felt uncertain to me as I watched, which suggested that the film was giving us a bit of a wink-wink trans character. Perhaps it was.
In fairness, the character is unambiguously said to be a “boy” in press materials. We also learn there that he’s voiced by the queer-identifying actor Harvey Guillen. And Gabo does talk about the importance of not being fooled by a “pretty face,” referencing King Magnifico’s handsome visage.
He’s not the only one who notices Magnifico’s physical charms. Dahlia, Asha’s best friend, clearly has a crush on the king—one not helped by the fact that she’s a palace cook who whips up cookies featuring the king’s face. Another resident pretends to smooch a statue of Magnifico.
As mentioned, wishes take on very visual forms here: Magnifico’s library is filled with the balloon-like hopes and dreams of Rosas’ citizens. And when wishes are sometimes smashed or otherwise destroyed, it has a physical impact on the original wisher. One gasps and holds her chest as if she experienced a very short heart attack.
Magic takes some violent turns. Magnifico shoots magical blasts that knock down, drag down or overpower people. One man is, essentially, possessed by magical forces, and he transforms into a violent, sword-swinging zealot.
People risk injury by jumping from high platforms. A man is overpowered by a bear (even though the real threat appears to be bunny rabbits). In a song, Magnifico smashes suits of armor, throws around toy-like representations of his subjects (who scream or cry in terror). He threatens and scares several folks. Slapstick humor peppers the film. (Someone is knocked down by a giant egg, for instance.) We learn that Asha’s father died, and we hear that Magnifico’s own native land was destroyed by “selfish, greedy thieves.”
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
We’re subjected to a wee bit of bathroom humor, mostly courtesy of Valentino, Asha’s talking goat. During a song, he makes a joke about “balls of gas,” (apparently referencing both stars and bodily functions). He scratches his rear on unsanded wood. And he orchestrates, literally, a bunch of chickens in a musical number featuring clucking, dancing and the discharge of eggs. (Earlier, Valentino was aghast that those eggs came out of a chicken’s “butt”.)
Someone sneezes on a cookie, and someone else later (without concern), eats it. We hear a reference to a bad-smelling dungeon.
In order to reclaim her family’s wishes, Asha must break into Magnifico’s castle and take them. Some might (and some do) argue that she’s “stealing” them. Asha argues that she’s only taking back what’s rightfully someone else’s property. But because the wishes were given to Magnifico of their own “free will,” it seems we’re arguably in a legal gray area here.
Disney is in the middle of its “Disney100 Celebration” in 2023. And perhaps a celebration is well-deserved. Over the last 100 years, the Mouse House has been home to some breathtaking artistic and commercial successes—some of which I, and many of you, still love.
But for all those years upon years of lucrative achievement and, yes, storytelling magic, Wish feels like the work of a surprisingly insecure company.
This film can feel as though it was written by algorithm. A “princess”? Check. Magic? Yes. Talking animals? You bet. Songs? Sure. Everything that has worked for Disney is regurgitated here and fed to its audiences—all while giving short shrift to what Walt Disney built the company on: great storytelling.
In place of a story that feels in need of telling, we’re given baskets upon baskets of Disney Easter eggs. The company would rather I didn’t spoil those little surprises (which can, in truth, be pretty fun), but trust me: It’d be easier to name the animated movies that aren’t referenced here than those that are. At times, it feels like Wish was made for those Easter eggs, not as a storytelling vehicle—which is a bit like serving up a bunch of frosting, sans cake, to a bunch of 7-year-olds. The first bite or two is tasty, but ultimately the thing is unsatisfying.
Some have called Wish a very traditional, even conservative movie—meaning it doesn’t take a lot of unnecessary chances. And that feels true, at least on some level. But even then, the movie hedges its bets, offering an ambiguous wink to its LGBT fans.
Religion always has the power to polarize people, so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that Wish—desiring so much to be as inoffensive as possible—pushed so hard to divorce itself, and its magic, from any sort of transcendent power. It is as secular as any story featuring magic wands and spellbooks, wish-granting stars and talking animals, could be. Ironically, of course, that decision might still alienate many.
OK, so we’ve got some stardust in us or whatever. That’s certainly not why I turn to the sky to wonder, or to pray. I just don’t think it’s possible to be inspired by the fact that we’re made of the same raw material as everything else in the cosmos, and the storytellers at Disney should be savvy enough to know that. We are inspired by mystery, transfigured by awe, brought to tears by our glorious creation and—most especially, the Creator behind it. Disney, essentially, asks us to be awestruck by a beautiful cathedral because of the constitution of its bricks.
If you can push aside this movie’s naturalistic musings, atheistic leanings and LGBT posturings, Wish is otherwise rather innocuous. But it’s not inspirational. It does not come close to the artistic standards set by Walt Disney so many decades ago. It falls short of its 1990s renaissance films and even pales against its more recent triumphs (such as Encanto).
I didn’t hate Wish. But as I left the theater, I had one big wish: I wish the movie could’ve been better.