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As the Walt Disney Company nears its centenary, there’s certainly a lot to commemorate. The Nov. 22 release of Wish, the newest film from Disney Animation, attempts to infuse some old Disney magic into a movie with their current sound, animation, and storytelling. The movie revolves around Asha (Ariana DeBose), the strong-willed female protagonist, who makes a wish upon a falling star. From there, the film twists and turns through the journey of creating one's own destiny and leaving some elements of fate up to the whimsical, magical unknown. While the film does flow through a cohesive story and makes occasional more literal references to past Disney works, it lacks the full control of audiences’ heartstrings that Disney has become known for.
The highlight of the film is no doubt the animation. From an image of a storybook opening in the beginning of the film, the animation style keeps readers emerged in a fantasy world. According to The Washington Post, the animators chose to use a “watercolor, storybook CG-visual style,” which perfectly combines an older, more whimsical style of animation with more developed CG technology. Not only is this style perfect for the film, it’s also something new and exciting. Despite this new art form being experimental, Disney dives all the way in with ambitious landscape shots and intricate details on characters. The film inspires a strong sense of nostalgia while showcasing artistic prowess.
As the film is a Disney musical most people will first look at the movie’s soundtrack, and there are certainly some strong songs. Most notably, “Knowing What I Know Now”, a thrilling, percussion heavy anthem that perfectly encapsulates the growing spirit of revolution within the characters and harnesses the climax of the film perfectly. The song is electrifying and certainly has the potential to have the breakout success of past Disney anthems. Along the same lines, “This Wish” strongly invokes an enchanting feeling and almost forces one to conjure images of fireworks against the iconic Disney castle.
The song also features an incredible vocal performance from Ariana DeBose who carries the film's soundtrack, making many songs more memorable with her fantastic voice. DeBose’s work is consistently outstanding in this film, from her singing to her voice acting.
However while there are some catchy songs, the soundtrack is ultimately inconsistent. For instance, “This Is The Thanks I Get?!” marks the turning moment where King Magnifico (Chris Pine), the film’s villain, reaches his breaking point, but the song does not match this energy. The song fails to capture the iconic catchiness incorporated in many Disney villain soundtracks, such as, “Be Prepared” from “The Lion King”, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from “The Little Mermaid”, and “Gaston” from “Beauty and the Beast”. The lyricism is occasionally redundant with lines such as, “I let you live hеre for free. And I don't even charge you rent,” that are clearly repetitive and uninspiring. The song’s message barely makes sense, blurring the motivations for the character between heroic selflessness and boisterous narcissism. The music production is not terrible, but it doesn’t make up for the shortcomings in the song’s writing. As a whole, the songs occasionally felt random and failed to add to the storyline.
The pitfalls in “Wish”’s story may not entirely be the songwriting department's fault, but are also worsened by the film’s writing. Many songs felt out of place due to the lack of clarity in characterization. Most notably, the film’s villain lacked proper development. The villain was painted to be a “nice guy” from the start yet was obviously the antagonist, which killed any opportunity for a compelling arc. Furthermore, there was an absence of clarity about why his motivations turned nefarious. Disney often creates two types of villain: One that is quintessentially evil, such as Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty,” or one that shocks audiences by their appearance as the villian, such as Hans from “Frozen.” The writers in “Wish” do not pick a clear angle and it creates a confusing dynamic for watchers.
Another instance of a gap in the storytelling is the characters of the village that are not fully flushed out. While the villagers deepest and most treasured desire is at stake, they often are still written as ditzy and confused. As a result, when the characters join together in a stand against the film’s villain, the strength of their actions seem to come from nowhere since they have been displayed as powerless the entire film. While this could act as a powerful turning moment, the lack of development leaves it feeling random.
“Wish” is undoubtedly a cute and youthful film that honors Disney’s magical spark, however it lacks the necessary components to become a cultural icon like some of the studio’s past work.
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