Disney’s new animated film WISH celebrates 100 years of Disney Animation in a BIG way. When Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer at Disney Animation and film’s co-writer, and her team set out to create WISH, their goal was to reference the studios mastery with a new musical story, while also creating a prequel to classic Disney fairy tales like SNOW WHITE (1937), PINOCCHIO (1940), and CINDERELLA (1950). It is a Disneyphile’s dream film with so many allusions to many beloved classics that you can feel the love from the animators.
While the team hit a home run with the animation and music, the story at times falls short of meeting this lofty goal. But that doesn’t make WISH any less enjoyable. Read on for our review and behind-the-scenes fun facts gleaned from the WISH Press Event at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
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 a goat sidekick named 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 applying for an apprenticeship with King Magnifico (Chris Pine), a rather galant, vain sorcerer with the power to grant wishes. Rosas residents willingly give their wishes to the King at which point they forget them, with hopes that he will make their request come true in the future. Alas, Asha’s grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber) is turning 100, and still has not had his wish granted. Asha seizes the opportunity to ask Magnifico to grant her grandfather’s wish. When King Magnifico refuses, Asha makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, Asha, Star, Valentino, and her group of friends confront King Magnifico and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.
Above all, the story of WISH is the importance of a person’s wish and the journey they must take to make that wish come true.
The Music of WISH
While the art of the film is rooted in Disney’s past, the spectacular music uses contemporary sounds and methods with a youthful spirit thanks to creator Julia Michaels, producer Benjamin Rice, and vocals by Ariana DeBose. Still in her 20’s, Michaels is the youngest person to write all the songs for a Disney film. The melding of nostalgia in a new style makes WISH very unique. Michaels is a HUGE Disney fan, so when she got the call during the pandemic to score the soundtrack, she jumped at the chance. “You’ve got the right girl!” she exclaimed at the WISH Press Event held at Walt Disney Animation Studios on 11/10.
The first song Michaels wrote is “This Wish” based on one paragraph by co-writer Jennifer Lee and director Chris Buck. The result blew the writing team away, and they ended up basing much of Asha’s journey around the song. Because Michaels was so instrumental in creating the world of WISH, much of the movie’s story is in the music. There are certain scenes which will become instant Disney classics, such as “I’m A Star” which reflects “Once Upon A Dream” from SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959). “I’m A Star” shares a similar forest setting and uses animals like bunnies, squirrels, and owls, just like “Once Upon A Dream”. But that slow, sleepy 1959 song is updated into a delightful, toe-tapping earworm in WISH that you’ll be singing for weeks to come.
Similarly, “This is The Thanks I Get?!” is a classic villain song in the vein of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (THE LITTLE MERMAID), “Be Prepared” (THE LION KING), or “Mother Knows Best” (TANGLED). Chris Pine sings his villainous theme with defining gusto, as the lyrics propel King Magnifico from vain leader to uncompromising nemesis. “His voice is as buttery as his face,” Michaels said of Pine’s chops when referring to the duet “At All Costs” with DeBose. This comes at a point when Asha and King Magnifico’s goals are aligned.
WISH List of Animated Easter Eggs
The creative team of WISH visited the Walt Disney Archives and studied previous films’ concept art and backgrounds which is very evident in the film’s layout. “There are over 100 references to Disney films,” according to director Chris Buck. Every department, from lighting to story, character animation to backgrounds would add subtle references when their department touched the film.
Here are a few Easter Eggs and references we found, or learned from the Press Event:
- WISH carries on the tradition of an opening and closing storybook reminiscent of SNOW WHITE, PINOCCHIO, SLEEPING BEAUTY, CINDERELLA and so many Disney animated films.
- A rabbit…thumps! When director Chris Buck saw an animated rabbit, he asked the animator, “can it thump?” just like Thumper (BAMBI)! When the lighting department took hold of the scene, they added a shaft of light to spotlight the thumping bunny foot.
- King Magnifico’s silhouette is similar to Jafar, specifically in the shoulder-pad design.
- King Magnifico’s magic is acid green – a color choice influenced by Maleficent’s magic. His magic takes shapes similar to designs seen in Maleficent and Ursula’s concept art.
- The Kingdom of Rosas’s forest bears a striking resemblance to SLEEPING BEAUTY’S forest setting. Tall, straight trees juxtaposed with tiny flowers and leaves.
- Look for a watercolor-paint effect in all the backgrounds of WISH. This design choice was taken directly from concept art of SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO, which famously features lush watercolor backgrounds. WISH took on the challenge of marrying watercolor with computer animation. More on that journey here.
- When costume designer Griselda Sastrawinata-Lemay learned that purple means “hope” in North African culture, she used the color primarily for Asha. In fact, Asha’s color palette mirrors the Fairy Godmother from CINDERELLA.
- Sastrawinata-Lemay incorporated pumpkin seeds on the collar of Asha’s dress to tie her to the natural world.
- Star’s heart-shaped face is a direct reference to Mickey Mouse’s beige-colored part of his face.
- Star flies above the castle of Rosas in a very familiar pattern toward the end of the movie
- Cinderella’s famous animated transformation from ragged housemaid to beautiful princess is used to foreshadow a similar transformation to a character at the end of the movie.
- Watch through the end of the credits for a musical Easter egg that ties this film to Disney’s entire animated catalog.
WISH really shines when it sings (yes, pun intended), and is a very enjoyable film for the entire family. The soundtrack, created by Julia Michaels and producer Benjamin Rice is incredible with each song as powerful as the last. The soundtrack is sure to become instant classics in the Disney catalog. At the press event, the creators repeatedly said that WISH is a love letter to the hundred years of Disney animation, and this is certainly true of the visuals. Animators put a lot of effort into referencing classics like SLEEPING BEAUTY, PINOCCHIO, and SNOW WHITE by using watercolor backgrounds.
The story could have benefitted from some character development. King Magnifico has a wife, and they share a few scenes in which she is the voice of reason when his good intentions start to turn bad. But when the King fully embraces his dark side, she turns on him very quickly and we don’t understand her complete motivation. While Asha has two adorable sidekicks, Star and goat Valentino (voiced by Alan Tudyk), she also has a group of 6 friends that don’t get enough development, simply due to time. Therefore, when the film builds quickly to a climax, I wasn’t invested enough in all of these characters and the entire Kingdom of Rosas to feel the full weight of the conflict.
However, Asha is a fully developed character and the ending reveals her lasting impact on Disney animated fairy tales – an unexpected and exciting turn of events! I won’t say too much more here, but listen to our SKYWALKING THROUGH NEVERLAND podcast episode 442 for a complete breakdown.
WISH has beautifully designed characters and color story perfect for merchandising! We are in love with all the Star merchandise already available everywhere you buy Disney toys. Be prepared for the WISH soundtrack to play endlessly on loop, mimicking another film in Disney’s animated lexicon – FROZEN. The songs are that good.
WISH runs 1 hour 35 minutes, is rated PG, and opens in U.S. theaters on November 22 – just in time for Thanksgiving. It is the perfect family film for the holidays. Do you plan to see it? Let us know @skywalkingpod!