Like many of Disney’s animated classics, “Wish” is naturally a musical, with songs from Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice. Though Pine — who does get to play the first straight-up, unquestionable bad guy in a Disney Animation film in a while — digs into a villainous number, “Wish” otherwise struggles regarding its music. In recent years, Tony winners like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Robert Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez have written iconic songs for Disney films, such as “How Far I’ll Go,” “Let It Go”, and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Even if you don’t think about the Renaissance era, in which each film featured at least one musical number for the ages, the bar is high for “Wish,” and it does not clear that bar at all. Part of the problem is that many of the songs Michaels and Rice have written attempt to ape some of the fast-patter style that Miranda’s songs evince, presuming that if DeBose and her castmates sing quickly enough, it will have the effect of sounding memorable. Even “This Wish,” the song Asha sings as she wishes upon a star, is flat and forgettable.
The issue is not the voice cast. DeBose is a recent Oscar winner for her superlative work in “West Side Story,” and was in the original Broadway cast of Miranda’s worldwide phenomenon “Hamilton.” And Pine continues to make a solid argument that he is the best Chris with his sly and cheerfully wicked voice performance as the vainglorious Magnifico. Longtime Disney stalwart Alan Tudyk also gets to flex his comic-relief muscles, when Asha’s chipper pet goat is gifted with the ability to talk by Star. And there will no doubt be a good amount of debate over the visual style of “Wish,” which blends hand-drawn and computer animation from the storybook prologue. In some ways, the mix of different styles feels like a callback to the distinctive visual tones of Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty,” which was divisive in its own right back in 1959. Here, the mix of watercolor-style backgrounds and computer-animated characters takes a bit of getting used to but ends up being the most fascinating and pleasing part of the experience.
It’s the inert storytelling itself in “Wish” that causes the film to stumble. Co-directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn (the two of whom are credited with the story along with writers Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore) are essentially trying to have their cake and eat it too, by putting a grab bag of references to Disney films into a movie that’s also meant to tell an original story of its own. Part of the problem with that original story is its shaky logic, to which the film riskily calls attention. It’s hard enough to understand why the people in Rosas would essentially gift their wishes to Magnifico in the slim hope that he may grant them one day, and equally baffling to understand why people would then forget their wishes. But when the film features a scene in which the people of Rosas literally ask Magnifico some of these questions (without getting answers), it only spotlights how confusing the story is.
That, of course, is because “Wish” has been sold as less of a story and more of a cacophonous celebration of Disney’s past. The prior fun of identifying an Easter egg in a Disney Animation film (or in Pixar films, which often seed in references to the CalArts school at which many of its filmmakers used to study) has now become an exhausting game in which there are no winners. Some of the Easter eggs in “Wish” are tiny enough that you may not even recognize them, and you’ll be no worse or better off. But so much of this story centers around your ability to, in the parlance of Captain America, understand these references, and clap yourself on the back for being able to do so. “Wish” has a fine cast and an interesting visual design; it also makes the mistake of constantly reminding its audience of the beauty and brilliance of Disney’s past, without offering any new charms of its own. Instead of watching this film, you’d be better off watching any number of Disney’s actual animated classics.
/Film Rating: 3.5 out of 10