• 02 Dec - 08 Dec, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

There’s a character in Disney’s self-mythologising movie Wish whose life dream is to inspire the next generation. He lives in Rosas, the fictional kingdom ruled by the self-taught sorcerer Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine). For reasons that remain murky, the wizard hoards his constituents’ wishes in his castle tower. When residents of Rosas turn 18, they relinquish their greatest dream in hopes that one day their benevolent dictator will fulfill it. Magnifico, like all authoritarian leaders, insists that it’s a small price to pay for their safety and eternal peace of mind.

The whole premise is very Disney, and Wish plays out as one would expect. Magnifico meets his match in Asha (Ariana DeBose), a 17-year-old girl who dares to question the order of things. Their encounter represents the generational crossroads that Disney finds itself at during its centennial. In him, a symbol of authority and empire. In her, a sense of revolution and community.

Directed by Chris Buck (Frozen) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (Raya and the Last Dragon), the film represents an awkward marriage between old and new ways. Even during its more successful moments, Wish’s magic falls flat.

We meet Asha as she prepares to celebrate her grandfather Sabino’s (Victor Garber) 100th birthday. She wants the king to fulfill her grandpa’s wish at that evening’s kingdom-wide wish ceremony. The plan is simple: Asha will ace her interview to become Magnifico’s apprentice, and once she gets the most coveted job in the kingdom, she will ask him the big question. An eager Asha lays it all out for her friends who work in the castle. The gang, which includes best friend Dahlia (Jennifer Kumiyama) and comical cynic Gabo (Harvey Guillén), meet her scheme with some skepticism but try to be encouraging. Plus, she has the favour of Magnifico’s wife, Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral), who sees something of herself in the optimistic and clumsy teenager.

Asha’s meeting with Magnifico starts off on promising ground. The two share stories of loss – Asha’s father died when she was young, and Magnifico had his world taken from him under tragic, but vague, circumstances. They also duet on “At All Costs,” one of the film’s best songs. DeBose is a boon to Wish, granting depth and real emotion to every number in which she is featured.

The pair seem aligned until Asha starts to question Magnifico’s process. The moment crushes Asha and radicalises her. Under the starry night sky that evening, she sings an impassioned song (“This Wish“) about wanting more for herself and her kingdom. The universe hears her and delivers Asha a gift in the form of Star, a buttony celestial creature similar to Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell. The magic orb gives Asha’s goat, Valentino, a voice (Alan Tudyk), and together the trio set out to free Sabino’s wish.

Their mission expands once Magnifico senses another magical presence in his kingdom. Wish, then, becomes a quest to save the kingdom from the hands of a power-hungry ruler, to imbue the people with a sense of their own strength and to function as brand affirmation. The film co-opts and parades a rebelliousness it doesn’t want to commit to: Good wins, but only within the existing structure. If the last number of Wish – a powerful reprise of “i This Wish” – tells us anything, it’s that Asha and her people know that, too.