It’s been a rough 2023 for Disney. After strike delays and the failure of various big-name releases, Wish has suffered the ignominy of being the worst-reviewed Disney animation in nearly 20 years. The film opened to the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score since 2006’s Chicken Little. Can this new musical really be that bad?
Reuniting Frozen screenwriter Jennifer Lee with co-director Chris Buck, the film is set in the magical kingdom of Rosas, ruled over and protected by the sorcerer King Magnifico (Chris Pine). The seemingly benevolent ruler offers his citizens one wish on their 18th birthday, taken from a store of wishes given to him by the kingdom. Magnifico’s apprentice, Asha (Ariana DeBose), hopes to use her wish to fulfil her grandfather’s dream, but this leads to her finding out that Magnifico is not as caring as people believe.
With all the visual flair you would expect from a Disney production, there isn’t much to the story other than the familiar hum of the past. It’s broadly about hope, overcoming adversity, and of course, magic, but so much time is devoted to securing viral moments that there’s precious little reason to care about the characters’ success. It’s as if the film’s creatives were brought in, shown previous hits, and told “do something like that”. It’s easy to point to musical numbers like Pine’s laboured “This Is The Thanks I Get”, and be reminded of “You’re Welcome” from Moana, or perhaps Encanto’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”.
It’s a shame that such an assembly line approach would be wasted on this excellent cast. DeBose is likeable as the heroine, but has little to work with in comparison to other lead characters, with scarce backstory and little social interaction with the world around her. Pine, in his first voice role since a brief appearance in the first Spider-verse movie, nails the fake charm of the villain, but is unlikely to be keeping anyone up at night with a performance lacking genuine menace. Alan Tudyk voices an animal sidekick in a running Disney gag that at this point feels cynical.
Wish’s release coincides with the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney Studios. Unfortunately, this only highlights what is missing from this by-the-numbers fairytale that never comes close to emulating the magic of the past.