The songs by Dave Metzger, Julia Michaels, and Benjamin Rice likely won’t produce a hit on the level of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” but there are a couple of numbers that work thanks to clever musical composition and thematic thrust. The empowerment song in the woods after finding the wishing star is a bit muddled in storytelling—is she the magical star, or has she been gifted something?—but it’s playful and engaging in a way the movie is too rarely allowed to be. The film also gets a needed boost near the end from another group number in which Asha’s allies sing about what they know now. I could see both of these being a part of a Magic Kingdom stage show before Christmas.
And that probably-planned stage show is at the root of the overall problem with “Wish”—it’s all so heavily processed, almost like an A.I. version of a Disney animated movie designed to make not more wishes but more sellable items and experiences. Yes, the machine that is Disney has felt increasingly manufactured in the 2020s—and the truth is that when they go off-book with projects like “Strange World,” the families don’t show up—but this one has an almost cynical cash grab air to it. Magnifico’s evil color palette is green, as if the creators are portraying not just politicians but money-focused leaders as the enemy, which is rich coming from a company that is more of an industry than an artistic venture lately.
And that’s what’s disheartening about “Wish.” I’m old enough to have seen several cycles of Disney success and failure—old enough to remember when “The Little Mermaid” was a comeback for the company—and so I’ve seen how the animated canon for this industry giant has shifted and changed. The good stuff comes from within artistic ventures, not from focus-grouped nostalgia. I also love the joy in my kids when they see a Disney movie that really moves them—for the record, my youngest (10) dug this one, my middle (12) was mixed, and my eldest (14) said he almost forgot it before he got home—but the best animated films will always come from a less hollow place than “Wish.” This wish feels like it didn’t fall from the sky but was crafted by a producers’ room with an eye for the highest profit margin. It leaves one wishing for something that feels human and true.
In theaters on Wednesday, November 22nd.