It pains me to say this. It really does. I have been a Disney fan since I was a kid, and I even worked there for a few years around the turn of the millennium. I raised my daughters watching Disney movies, and there was a time in my life when Disney could do no wrong in my mind. Those days are gone now, and this movie is easily a bottom-5 Disney Animated Feature. I can usually find at least a few redeeming things about almost any Disney film, but this one left me completely flummoxed. The film made no sense from a story perspective, from a character perspective, or even from a design perspective.
Disney is worried about the wrong things.
I worked at Disney during a pretty dark time. The wave that produced blockbusters like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, and Tarzan had crested. The Florida studio would produce Lilo and Stitch during that period, but the Burbank studio was struggling, and the company went through a very clumsy transition from traditional hand-drawn animation to a CGI pipeline. What was worse, though, was that the studio had lost its way in terms of crafting wonderful stories that were populated by intriguing characters. The studio was trying to make movies that would appeal to everyone rather than just making good movies and letting the rest take care of itself. I fear that Disney is in a similar situation today.
The wave that produced Tangled, Frozen, Moana, and Encanto has crested, and the most recent efforts, Strange World and Wish, are films with stories that are thin and characters we don’t care about. What’s worse is that you could always at least count on Disney films to look good, but the visual styles of these films, and of Wish in particular, felt confused and disorganized.
The structure of the story doesn’t work.
From a storytelling standpoint, but script just didn’t work on any level. First of all, the concept just didn’t make sense, there was never a clear idea of what this story was about. Since there was no clarity in what the story was about, the characters weren’t developed enough to have clear goals. Without those goals, it was impossible for the story to have a tight dramatic structure. That is screenwriting 101, and this movie failed. Screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore just did not do enough to build this script from the inside out, and without that foundation, the story fell flat.
The characters had no depth.
Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose), the main character had a relatively ambiguous goal. According to the concept of the story, King Magnifico (Chris Pine) created this utopian society where people could come and live in peace. They would express their wildest wish to him, which he would magically keep, causing them to forget what it was, and once a year, he would grant someone their wish. Asha wanted her grandfather to get his wish since he was going to turn 100, and from there, the story completely fell apart.
But the main issue with Asha is that she has no depth. The best characters always have an inner weakness or flaw that they need to overcome, and Asha doesn’t have anything that I could see no flaw in her personality. She was totally likable and a little quirky, but she didn’t have any character trait that could accurately be described as a flaw. The problem with that is that the transition between Act II and Act III is often a moment when the hero seems to lose everything, often due to the fact that they haven’t overcome that flaw or weakness. It’s usually the most dramatic moment in the script and sets the Hero forward to finally claim the prize in Act III. That moment completely fell flat in Wish because there was no flaw to cause Asha to seem to fail or for her to overcome. That left us with an undramatic story and an anticlimactic finish to the story.
There was also no clear motivation from Magnifico. Why did he want other people’s wishes in the beginning? Why was it important that they forget what the wishes were once they gave them to him? What was he getting out of any of this?
The production design lacked focus.
This might have been the most upsetting thing about Wish. While the movie was beautiful, there was no direction to the production design. The studio seemed to be influenced by previous success from other studios that added unique elements to their looks, like Into the Spiderverse from Sony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Paramount, but those studios clearly identified the motivation behind the interesting looks that they had. There was none of that in Wish, and it seemed like they were playing with the different looks in the movie with no real idea as to why.
Overall, this was a pretty lackluster effort from the studio that should be leading the charge in animated features. I will always be a fan of Disney films, and that’s why it’s so disappointing when they come up so short when we all know what they’re capable of at their best. At their best, there is no one better than Disney. Unfortunately, this film is far from their best, and I don’t think Wish could be included in the top-5 animated films released this year.
Do better, Disney.