by Hope Madden
Adorably subversive, that’s how I would label Disney’s new animated feature, Wish. Chris Buck’s latest, co-directed with Fawn Veerasunthorn, strings together in-jokes and homages to Disney’s past to camouflage its fight the power message. Unfortunately, the balance doesn’t emphasize storytelling and the result is middling.
Asha (Oscar winner Ariana DeBose) is interviewing to become apprentice to King Magnifico (Chris Pine). Magnifico is much beloved, and not just because he’s so very handsome. It’s also because he takes such good care of his people’s wishes, which they donate to him when they turn 18 and then forget all about. Once in a great while, he grants one. But mainly that’s to mollify the masses.
I smell a message, and it is one I can get behind. Hold your elected official accountable, people. Do it! You owe them nothing.
Your animated movie owes you some things, though, and Wish struggles a bit to provide those things. Obviously DeBose has a voice, and her songs are solid. Pine’s a charmer and spot-on as the aggrieved leader. Better still, Alan Tudyk voices the Disney-required sassy animal sidekick, Valentino. He’s unnecessary and adds nothing to the actual narrative, but he’s a bit of fun and Tudyk’s an impressive vocal talent.
Asha also has seven buddies. One’s smart and wears glasses. Another sneezes a lot. One’s bashful. Another one is always drowsy. Get it? Just one (or seven) needless winks, as if to say, “We love Disney! We just hate entitled men in power who refuse to share that power with the very people who’ve built their fortune.”
Bit of a mixed message.
Of course, none of that matters if the film itself is a fun, gorgeous, memorable time for the kids. Wish has its moments. It often looks quite lovely. Each performance delivers something bright and fun. While the songs are not especially memorable, they’re enjoyable enough while you’re watching.
In truth, Wish shares a lot in theme with last week’s The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. And though that film is no masterpiece, it digs into the idea that you cannot fight the power from within. This is where Wish misses the point. It’s trying to do something radical without upsetting anybody, and that’s just not possible.