Walt Disney Animation’s new animated musical WISH utilizes 100 years of animation to create a visual masterpiece. On September 21st, filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck presented 30 minutes of footage from the film along with a Walt Disney Archives exhibit featuring painted backgrounds used in SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959), PINOCCHIO (1940), and SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937). The visual similarity is stunning!! The goal, according to director Chris Buck (FROZEN), was to utilize the art of these original films as inspiration, and then translate that art seamlessly to the computer for current 3D animation technology. To marry technology with art so both become something greater – WISH.

Read on for details about the film and the artistic process we love so much.

Wish | Official Trailer

ABOUT THE FILM

WISH is a musical-comedy in the solid tradition of Disney’s animated musicals. The film’s heroine Asha (Ariana DeBose) is a 17-year-old idealist with an animal sidekick Valentino (Alan Tudyk). She lives in the kingdom of Rosas – a fictional place inspired by Mediterranean cultures – and the story is set in the Medieval Age (1200-1300) – before all the fairy tales we know and love from Walt Disney Animation. 

Asha is apprentice to King Magnifico (Chris Pine), a rather galant, vain sorcerer with the power to grant wishes. Rosas residents willingly give their wishes to the King, forgetting them in hopes that he will make their wish come true in the future. Asha’s grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber), is turning 100, but his wish still has not been granted. Asha seizes the opportunity to become Magnifico’s apprentice in hopes that he will grant her grandfather’s wish. When King Magnifico doesn’t, Asha makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, Asha and Star confront King Magnifico and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.

© 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

WISH opens in U.S. theaters on November 22 – just in time for Thanksgiving. Now let’s learn about the making of the movie!

BEHIND-THE-SCENES CREATION of WISH

On September 21st we were treated to 30 minutes of footage from WISH, along with a Q&A session with the filmmakers. Attending were:

  • Jennifer Lee, Animation Chief Creative Officer, Writer/Executive Producer (FROZEN, FROZEN 2)
  • Chris Buck, Director (FROZEN, FROZEN 2)
  • Fawn Veerasunthorn, Director (head of story, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON)
  • Peter Del Vecho, Producer
  • Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones, Producer

WISH began in Spring of 2018, when Jennifer Lee began brainstorming a way to pay tribute to the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney Studios. While the story plays a big role, art is the key factor. In fact, Jennifer Lee writes the story while looking at paintings created by Lisa Keene – both for FROZEN and for WISH.

JENNIFER LEE: When we develop these films, we develop them with the most beautiful paintings by incredible artists.  And then when you would transfer it to CG, there would be a shift. So it’s getting their vision, actually finally having technology and artistry meet in a way that they’re seeing eye to eye, instead of having to compromise. 

A quick glance at a background for SLEEPING BEAUTY, and then the background of WISH, and you can see the astonishing similarity. Especially the ratio of size from trees or buildings to tiny, tiny leaves on trees. (drag the slider to compare both photos)

Left: SLEEPING BEAUTY background by Eyvind Earle / Right: WISH development art

Animators and background artists studied PINOCCHIO and SNOW WHITE backgrounds to see how watercolor affected the canvas. They were able to translate that watercolor effect to the production design of WISH in an incredibly beautiful way. (drag the slider to compare both photos)

Left: SNOW WHITE Production art / Right: WISH film

For the shape of flowers, animators studied ALICE IN WONDERLAND concept art by Mary Blair. (drag the slider to compare both photos)

Left: ALICE IN WONDERLAND Concept Art by Mary Blair / Right: WISH movie

FAWN VEERASUNTHORN, Director: And what I love is it brings our CG artists and 2D artists together.  Animators will ask for advice about ‘how do you put the lines on the face of a character to accentuate the emotion?’ and they studied that. The effects crew went to the animation research library where you have seen some of the artwork today. And they studied how the graphic shapes of it translated into our CG process. The artists have expressed that this is a wonderful thing that it brought them together, that there’s no longer a boundary between 2D and CG.  

To create WISH, animators, directors, and writers had to push boundaries and break barriers, just as Walt Disney did to form his studio 100 years ago. The character of Star – a pantomime character (like Tinker Bell!) that comes to life when Asha makes her wish – represents not only Mickey Mouse, but Walt Disney himself. Star also makes a great cookie!

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 21: “Star” cookies are seen at the Long Lead Press Day & In-Person Presentation for WISH at El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California on September 21, 2023. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

JENNIFER LEE:  How I got my head around Star – ’cause we did many iterations of Star – Star can’t make this wish happen for you. But Star represents the thing that was critical to Walt, that you need.  You need hope. You need possibility. Doesn’t hurt to have some wonder.  Don’t forget some joy.  All the things that we grab onto that keep us going.  And yes, add a little bit of magic.  

CHRIS BUCK: Walt had that wish. He had that initial wish of creating, you know, these wondrous stories and trying to get them to everyone, being able to convey that to everyone. And yet, he had a team of people that would help him, a team of artists, incredible artists. Star helps Asha along the way, along with others, as you’ll see in the rest of the movie.  But you know, wishes don’t always happen by themselves. There can be a team that can help you.  

The WISH team also includes music, and we were fortunate enough to hear three songs from the film. There is an upbeat “City of Rosas” song that introduces the audience to the town and townspeople (much like “Belle” from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST). King Magnifico has his turning point song, “This is the Thanks I Get.” While not exactly a villain song, it’s his journey to making a bad choice that changes the course of the film. Based on this song alone, I think King Magnifico will be my new favorite character.

Then we heard the “Let It Go” of this film – “You’re A Star!” This is Asha’s showstopper, gloriously sung by Ariana DeBose (Anita in WEST SIDE STORY).

The soundtrack is written by Julia Michaels with producer Benjamin Rice. Still in her 20’s, she is the youngest person to write all the songs in a Disney film, with good reason: 

JENNIFER LEE: You know, people tease, oh, teenagers only care about themselves.  Well, they don’t.  They just have the courage to ask for a better world. And Julia caught all of that, and gave back us something more inspired than what we were even thinking about.  And it has been a true north for us the whole time. She is so young, so she taps in to our heroine Asha.

I then asked if there were any musical inspirations from the past 100 years of Walt Disney animated films the directors asked Julia Michaels to incorporate. Chris Buck did not specifically ask but mentioned that Julia is a student of all the films and knows them well. 

JENNIFER LEE: There’s a difference between a film with music and a musical. In WISH, it’s a musical, and every song drives a story forward.  Every song is a reveal of character or emotion. But one of the big things for us, too, was to try things we’ve always wanted to do, but we’ve never done.  And I’m gonna tease a song, but I won’t say what it is.  There’s a song that I have always dreamed of having a moment where the protagonist and villain are aligned in their philosophies. But when you’re challenged, you make choices. Julia and Ben tapped into something so incredible about that and something so universal.  It was this delicious experience of getting to dream about something new, as a storyteller. Can there be the moment?  And rarely can you find it.  And Julia didn’t just find it, she blew us away.  

And with that tease, we now have to wait until November 22 to see Walt Disney Animation’s WISH in U.S. theaters. Will you see the film? Did this article peak your interest? Let us know in the comments.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) Peter Del Vecho, SVP, Feature Film Production, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Fawn Veerasunthorn, Jennifer Lee, CCO, Disney Animation Studios, Chris Buck and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster-Jones speak onstage for “Wish” at the Long Lead Press Day & In-Person Presentation for WISH at El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California on September 21, 2023. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

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