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The Media Man Reviews: Wish


Title card

As this is Disney's centenary year, of course they had to release a new movie to celebrate the occasion. And how appropriate the movie they release during their 100th anniversary year is one about wishing stars?


Wish had a lot going for it during the hype leading to its release. Not only has Disney been having a VERY rough year this year with numerous movies bombing left and right, far right conservative politicians attacking them because being woke is somehow a bad thing in their eyes, the brand losing its appeal because of said box office bombs and a general loss of goodwill in the company thanks to its previous CEO, the actor's and writer's strikes and SO much more crazy crap that happened, but this is also the movie that's meant to act as an anniversary celebration for the company what with this being its 100th anniversary. So yeah, this movie has a lot to do here. It has to be a hit, it has to convince people that the Disney brand is worth buying again and it has to be a good anniversary celebration. No pressure, am I right? I sure am glad I'm not in Disney's shoes right now...


Last year, you may remember how Disney gave us Strange World and in my review of the movie...I didn't enjoy it. It was one of Disney's most dull and uninteresting films they ever made with only the visuals providing anything worthwhile. So going into this film, I was definitely praying "please be better than last year's movie!". Unlike most fans who were (unjustifiably) cynical about this movie, I was really interested by the trailers and was keen to see what the film had to offer.


So is Wish a wish come true for Disney fans? Or should we be wishing this film never existed? Let's wish upon a star and dive into this magical new Disney film...


Section 1: The Story


Wish tells the story of a young teen named Asha whom lives in the Kingdom of Rosas. Rosas is ruled by King Magnifico, a seemingly benevolent man whom has the power to grant wishes. But Asha soon discovers Magnifico is anything BUT magnificent and when she makes a wish that ends up giving her a magical star companion, she sets out to free everyone's wishes and stop the evil king for good...


Let's start off with the premise. First of all, HOW FANTASTIC AN IDEA FOR AN ANNIVERSARY MOVIE IS THIS?!?! Disney is all about granting wishes, it has a huge theme of wishes and their national anthem is even "When You Wish Upon A Star"! So making a movie literally about granting wishes and featuring a wishing star character was absolutely perfect! If any story was going to celebrate 100 years of Disney then THIS is the premise you go with so major kudos to the studio for thinking of that. But just because the premise is good for an anniversary special, does it make for a good movie? Honestly...yes it does.


The story is very traditional Disney and for an anniversary movie calling back to 100 years of the company's legacy, that's OK. It has a lot of the usual Disney tropes in there like the free-spirited protagonist, an evil villain, a fairy tale setting, a grand kingdom, a theme of magic, cute animal sidekicks, show stopping musical numbers and more. Yes it sounds like a hodgepodge of Disney clichés and it makes for the most stereotypical Disney movie ever, but again, it's excusable because this is a movie celebrating 100 years of the company. And besides, they do use these elements well and give us a fun movie that pays homage to the past while also being entertaining in its own right.


I also like how the movie is paced out. All the characters are given an introductory scene and none of them feel rushed so we get plenty of time to see who these characters are and what their needs and wants are. The first act sets everything up well and the second act raises the stakes for a climax that...admittedly is a bit of an anti-climax but still feels appropriate for the kind of movie that we got. I won't say the pacing is perfect but it feels right enough in my eyes. Nothing drags and every scene we get feels like it has a purpose.


And naturally, it's only fitting that the theme of wishes plays a big part in the movie's story. The movie covers on what makes a wish special and how in order to achieve a wish, you have to work for it. You don't get just what you want just by "wishing" for it after all and we see that as Asha takes action against King Magnifico to stop him and free the wishes he's taken. The movie also covers the always relevant topic on control and power. How much power should one man have and how much control should one man be allowed to have over his people. Is it right to leave everything in the hands of one man or should people be allowed to pursue their own dreams and control their own fates? It's what makes our hero and villain such perfect foils where Asha believes it's wrong to take away something beautiful and special to people and lock them away forever while Magnifico believes that he decides what everyone deserves and the wishes he grants are what's essential to the kingdom. It's compelling stuff and could even be pretty thought-provoking, which is a sign of an engaging story if it makes you think.


In my review of Strange World, I criticized how tonally inconsistent it was and that it tried to be three things at once and it didn't work. That criticism does NOT apply here thankfully. Tonally it's pretty much what you expect from a modern Disney film in where they play it mostly safe and don't take as much risks as the classic movies did, which always sucks because Disney movies were at their best when they had a little more grit to them like The Fox and the Hound, The Lion King, Pinocchio and more. But at least the tone provides us a fun experience and it never feels inconsistent. No scenes feel suddenly too dark for no reason and it never feels too childish (except for maybe a few jokes) and they don't shove in humour when it's not necessary. It feels quite balanced to me and it makes for a better viewing experience as a result.


And of course, there's a lot of cheeky little nods and Easter Eggs to past Disney movies sprinkled throughout the movie. A lot of them are pretty funny and some are actually pretty clever too so it feels like fan-service but done well as a result. None of it feels intrusive to the story or too tongue-in-cheek in my opinion.


As is, this movie has some faults that Disney should wish on to fix. As mentioned earlier, the movie suffers a bit of an anti-climax in the sense that the villain is defeated...by a musical number. Yes I'm comically oversimplifying it but with how powerful Magnifico ended up becoming at this point, you'd expect a more clever way of defeating him and more of an epic final battle than what we got.


Also I dunno if it's just me, but the world-building is really weak here. The entire backstory of this movie just feels very vague and half-explained and it just feels like the writers didn't give the world enough thought in my eyes. Like Magnifico founded the Kingdom of Rosas after witnessing his home getting destroyed by petty thieves. OK, so where did he get that book that contains forbidden magic? How did he find it in the first place and what even IS it to begin with? Never explained, we just have to accept all this and not question it.


Also Star just kinda comes out of nowhere and again, it's never really explained how it just came out like that, where it came from or what it is. I know the movie's kind of the origin story for Disney's wishing star but it feels like a very limp origin. Asha just makes a wish and...it appears. Just like that. That's a pretty lazy origin story for one of Disney's most iconic images. How did it even appear like that? It's not like Asha knows magic or anything so WHAT?! You can't just have a big plot point like this and not explain it!


As is, I really had a fun time with the story here. Yes it may feel half-baked with its lore and world-building but the tone, premise, call-backs and themes made this an engaging and entertaining watch for me and it just feels like this was the right way to celebrate Disney's 100th anniversary. Could it have been even greater? Maybe, but I say it's still very good and enjoyable enough for a celebration movie...


Section 2: The Characters


Disney has a reputation of making some of the most beloved and recognizable characters in pop-culture history. This movie stays true to its roots by giving us one heck of a fun cast that I'm sure many will remember.


We have our protagonist, Asha (voiced by Arianna DeBose). As far as Disney heroines go, she's pretty standard. She's your typical nice, quirky, strong-willed and compassionate heroine who will do what it takes to stand against injustice and fight for what she believes in. While I admire her desire to stand against King Magnifico and give back what he's taken from the people of Rosas, she is sadly a pretty uninteresting character and again, is VERY standard in terms of Disney heroines. Nothing about her character really makes her stand out from other characters before her like Belle, Jasmine, Anna, Elsa or Mulan. She's so paint-by-numbers as a character that you could literally replace her with any other Disney heroine and nothing would change. It's clear even the writers didn't care much for her because not only is she so copy-paste, she pretty much has no arc in this movie. She begins and ends the movie as the exact same character she started as. Weirdly enough, they kinda set one up for her on how she's "too caring" and then...do nothing with it. While yes her caring nature does cause a lot of the problems in the movie but again, this flaw doesn't really change her or cause her to grow over the course of the movie. Disappointing how they put such little effort into the heroine here because Disney are usually great at leading ladies.


Our antagonist on the other hand is more interesting. We have King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) and let me just say what everybody else was thinking when they saw him: AT LAST! FINALLY! A STRAIGHT-FORWARD DISNEY VILLAIN! I can't begin to tell you how damn refreshing it is to FINALLY have a straight-up villain after so long! We haven't had a proper Disney villain since Tangled back in 2010! And thankfully Magnifico brings Disney villains back with a bang because he was just a hoot! He's full of himself and is clearly drunk on power, but he relishes his position and essentially getting to play god with the people of Rosas as he picks and chooses the wishes that get granted. Also he's not just a generic evil villain either, he's more nuanced than that as his backstory does explain his desire for control and to keep others from harm and he even makes legitimate points to Asha when they debate on what's right for the people of Rosas. I also like how he becomes a genuine threat as his descent into insanity causes him to take drastic measures and he becomes a more unstable person who commands great power. Keep this up Disney because you're at your best when you have proper villains for once!


I also found Asha's grandfather Sabino (voiced by Victor Garber) a pretty sympathetic character. Imagine living for 100 years and then never having your wish granted? I just felt so sorry for this guy and it's no wonder Asha got pushed to do what she did in the end. I wanted to help the poor guy as well! Her mother Sakina (voiced by Natasha Rothwell) was equally as sympathetic for the same reason and also the loss of her husband. Those two were great supporting characters and motivators for Asha to do what she did.


We also have Asha's friends whom are clearly expies of the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White. They are Dahlia, Gabo, Hal, Simon, Safi, Bazeema and Dario. Not only are they fun little nods to the dwarves, but they were a fun bunch of side-characters whom help out Asha during the climax and even get more involved than one might've expected, especially Simon. I didn't expect what they did with him going into this movie.


We have King Magnifico's wife, Queen Amaya (voiced by Angelique Cabral). I saw where they were going with her but I feel her character arc was rushed. She didn't appear enough times to fully flesh her out so by the time she turns on Magnifico, it feels too sudden to me and it should've been built up more. Interestingly, the original draft of this movie had her as the villain alongside Magnifico and while I think having two villains would've overcrowded the movie a little, maybe they would've been better off going in that direction.


And finally we have Valentino (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and Star. Valentino is just the comedic pet sidekick character and that's about it and Star, as mentioned earlier, is so vague in concept and execution that I can't really get into it. I do wish they made it more grandiose in nature instead of it being just a mute character with a childlike wonder. That just felt too cliched a route they could've taken this character in. The original draft for Star had it as a more Genie-ish character and even had a romance with Asha. Now THAT they definitely should've done as that would've been more fun and interesting!


Not all the characters are great, but there are a lot of memorable ones in here and there's nobody who's really hateable or anything like that at least. I enjoyed the cast for the most part but for some like the Queen and Star, maybe the original versions would've been better for them...


Section 3: The Animation


It sucks that Disney didn't go back to 2-D with this movie as THAT would've been the perfect call-back to the studio's classic era and origins. But the animation did take a nice approach that made for a very visually interesting movie.


YouTube trailers did NOT do the animation justice at all because let me tell you, it looks SO much better on the big screen than on your devices and computer screens! The film looks absolutely gorgeous and I hope future Disney films stick with this style from now on. While it's still computer animation, they at least executed it in a style that evokes 2-D animation, something a bit like what they did with their famous Paperman short. The backgrounds especially almost look like paintings with how they're rendered here and the overall textures on the settings and characters evokes a painterly feel to them which adds to the 2-D aesthetic. I could actually believe there was any 2-D animation at all with how the style looks! And despite it being 3-D trying to evoke 2-D, the art-style doesn't look off to me and is actually very appealing to look at. It's like Disney have finally found a perfect blend between the two styles when most other animated properties out there have failed to do so.


The character designs do have that typical "Disney" style to them but it also fits with the 2-D like aesthetic and how this is a movie celebrating the studio's legacy. And everyone looks visually distinct too with their own little design features to make them stand out like Asha's braided hair and her purple dress, King Magnifico's flashy blue, white and grey robes and huge cape, the seven teens with their seven dwarf-inspired costumes and Star's glowing yellow body. The characters all look great here and are very well designed. And of course I like how we got some diverse representation here with various skin tones and colours on display with the cast be they main or background characters. And of course, the art-style allows for the characters to be very expressive with their faces and body language with King Magnifico being the animation highlight for me. A lot of the great expressions come from him especially with him looking calm, kind and collected one second and then suddenly snapping with rage the next.


The backgrounds look very lovely in this movie. The Kingdom of Rosas is depicted as this beautiful fairy-tale place with a European style look to it, which is fitting as it was built on the Mediterranean Sea, and there's a heavy use of white and blues in its colours, a visual metaphor for how Magnifico built the kingdom up literally in HIS image. I wouldn't have minded seeing more of the place but for what we did see, it was great. Magnifico's study especially was quite dazzling to see with his workbench full of potions and all the orbs containing the wishes floating around the ceiling. His dark chamber hidden in the floor was chilling to see too with its dungeon-like atmosphere and use of reds and blacks in its colours. It's like the calm blues of his study represent his pleasant side and the dark colours of his hidden lair represent his twisted side.


And of course, the animation goes all out during the musical numbers with a big kingdom wide dance party to welcome new citizens to Rosas, a magical duet between Asha and Magnifico and a rallying call to action with Asha and the seven teens. Disney always seems to save its best animation for the musical numbers and they pull it off brilliantly here.


While the story and characters may have something to criticize, I don't have any issues with the animation in this movie. It's a lovely blend of 3-D and 2-D with an appealing art-style, expressive character animation and a beautiful use of colour. I hope we see this kind of look for future Disney films...


Section 4: The Songs


If there's anything Disney can still do, it's make a great soundtrack and this is NO exception! The songs in this movie are great and none of them miss a beat, let me tell you!


The opening number is "Welcome To Rosas" in where the song is basically, well Asha welcoming some civilians to Rosas. The song kinda reminds me of songs like "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast and "The Family Madrigal" from Encanto where the entire point of it is to welcome the audience to the characters and the setting of the movie and I have to say if this was how I got invited into Rosas, I'd accept that invitation because of what a fun opener it is! It's very fast-paced, catchy and bouncy, as an inviting song should be, and the instrumental accompaniments add to the fun tone of the song.


We next have a duet between Asha and Magnifico with "At All Costs". This one is a quite ballad between our heroine and villain with soothing vocal work that makes it sound almost like a lullaby and the subject matter sounds sweet with how Asha and Magnifico look at all the wishes and vow to protect them at all costs. It's very easy on the ears and a beautiful duet between the two. Though you have to admit out of context, it does weirdly sound like a love song between the two, which is kinda funny to me. XD


And next we have "This Wish". Sung by Asha, it's pretty much the signature song to this film akin to Aladdin's "A Whole New World", The Lion King's "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" or Pocahontas's "Colours of the Wind". The song has a bit of a shaky opening but it gets better as it goes along and is easily carried by the powerful vocals of Arianna DeBose. It's also very easy on the ears and pleasant to listen to.


And next we have "I'm A Star". It's the most forgettable song in the movie for me and honestly the film would've been better without it. It doesn't really add much to the story and while it's fun in places, it doesn't match up to all the other tunes. I would've left it out and focused more on the story to fully flesh out the world and characters more instead of wasting it on this.


And now onto one of my personal favourites, "This Is The Thanks I Get?!", Disney's first villain song since "Shiny" from Moana. King Magnifico sings this one and needless to say, it's a sharp contrast to his singing in "At All Costs" for Chris Pine delivers a crazed and angry sounding performance with his vocals here to emphasize Magnifico's frustration with how he feels unappreciated due to how his large ego means anything he perceives as a slight against him means the people are ungrateful to him. It's quite a bopping tune and Chris Pine's vocal work really makes it a fun listen to as we delve into Magnifico's fragile psyche. It's too bad that many detractors miss the damn point of the song and criticize it for "sounding too upbeat" and "not like a villain song". Like guys, of course it doesn't, BECAUSE MAGNIFICO DOESN'T THINK HE'S THE VILLAIN HERE! How is that obvious to me but nobody else? God some people just don't know how to properly analyse media anymore...


And then we have the best song in the movie for me, "Knowing What I Know Now". Seriously, this thing kicks ASS! It's the rallying song as Asha and the teens band together to stand against King Magnifico and how knowing what they know now, they can't just stand aside and let him win. It's kickass drumming instrumentals and the inspiration to rebel makes it one hell of a banging tune and I was wowed at just how awesome it was. I did NOT expect it to kick so much ass but it did anyway!


People can bash modern Disney films as much as they like and in some cases, they are right to do so. But even those people can't deny that Disney's modern movies are able to deliver some awesome songs and a killer soundtrack and Wish is no exception...


Overall


Wish won't rank among the best Disney films ever, but I had a really good time with this one. Yes the story maybe a little cliched and half-baked with its weak world-building but its fun premise, Disney call-backs and homages, memorable characters, gorgeous animation and awesome soundtrack make for a fun throwback to Disney's old era of movies and I say it was an enjoyable watch. While it wasn't a perfect movie to celebrate Disney's 100th anniversary, it was a great celebration regardless and I think it's one of the better movies of Disney's modern era. I recommend watching it and making your own opinion of the movie. Don't listen to the critics in this case, listen to the audiences because this movie does NOT suck. If you're a Disney fan then you'll really enjoy this. If you're not, then give it a try anyway and see what you think. We wished for a good Disney movie and I think our wish was truly granted...


And that's all I have for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to share your thoughts down below. Did you like Wish? Did you not like it? Do tell me. ^^


Next week we kick off some Christmas celebrations with a retrospective on Robot Wars Christmas Specials. No I'm not messing with you, trust me. It makes sense when you read it. XD See you then media fans!



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