When You Wish

Last weekend, I watched the new (ish — it just came to Disney+ but was in theaters last year) Disney movie, Wish, and I’m sad to say that it was rather meh. It wasn’t bad, but the story had the feel of something written by the marketing team to promote the studio’s anniversary. It was like they were trying to check off boxes as they paid tribute to their history, and they wrote a story that loosely linked together everything they wanted to do, leading up to the punchline of the post-credits scene. It looks gorgeous and the cast is great, but I actually forgot that I’d seen it a day later.

I think a big part of the problem is that the basis for the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. There’s a wizard king who’s created some kind of utopia by having citizens hand over their wishes to him when they turn 18, and he’s to keep them safe, then he grants a few wishes every year, making them come true. I have so many questions here, most of which are asked when the townspeople start asking questions to stall for time. The big one is why anyone would do this in the first place. Once they hand over their wish, they don’t even remember having it, which means that they aren’t discontented from wanting something they don’t have or disappointed from trying and failing, but it also leaves them a bit empty. Then there’s the fact that wishes change. What I wished for when I was 18 has nothing to do with what I want now. I could have handed that wish over without missing it even just a few years later, and then I’d have had an entirely new wish.

Anyway, when a young woman who’s applying to be the king’s intern questions this system and asks for her grandfather’s wish to be granted, that freaks out the king. Then she wishes really hard on a star and the star comes down and starts making magic happen, which makes the king feel threatened, so he tries to stamp out this other magic. Seriously, I didn’t get what was going on here at all. In spite of a really talented cast giving it their all (Chris Pine was having way too much fun), the songs are pretty weak. I was thinking during the movie that Lin-Manuel Miranda was having a really off day, but it turns out someone else did the music, so I guess they were trying for Lin-Manuel and missing.

One thing I really liked was that our heroine had a whole group of friends, something we don’t usually see in Disney movies. The more typical Disney heroine maybe hangs around with a couple of cute animals, but she doesn’t have a peer group. Some of that is baked into the fairy tales the movies are based on. Aurora is in hiding, Belle and Rapunzel are captives (and Belle is a weirdo outsider even before she finds the Beast), Mulan is Not Like Other Girls, and the Cinderella story wouldn’t work if her squad of kids of other wealthy merchants and minor gentry got their parents involved on her behalf. But even in the “original” stories, the heroines are rather isolated. Frozen is a story about isolation and Mirabel in Encanto has her sisters and cousins, but the local kids who hang around her are all little kids, not a peer group.

I’m curious if this is a deliberate choice or just something that happened without anyone thinking about it. Most writers tend to be the weirdo outsider type, so it’s natural for them to write that kind of character. It’s also a lot easier to write a loner than to try to juggle all the characters you get in a friend group. Plus, it’s easier to get your characters in trouble if they don’t have backup.

But this movie has the heroine as part of a group of friends, and they all team up to support her when she’s in trouble, which has a lot to do with saving the day, and even though I’m definitely part of the Weirdo Outsider demographic, it was nice to see that.

Chris Pine and Ariana DeBose deserved a lot better, so I hope they get another chance at doing voices for animation. Alan Tudyk seems to be required by law to do voices for all Disney movies (though in this one he actually got to talk instead of just squawking or making animal sounds, and he got parts of a song) so I’m less worried about him getting another chance.

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