Disney’s Wish Is a Commercial for Its Greatest Hits

Wish tries to put Disney back on the map — but in the age of Spider-Verse, is there room for the brand’s traditional house style?

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Inverse Reviews

If you’ve seen any of the animated features in Disney’s sprawling back catalog, then you’ve already seen Wish. The company’s latest is not so much a film as it is a highlight reel of their greatest hits, a Disney expo-turned-Easter egg hunt that rewards even the most casual fan.

The instinct to catch every reference does give Wish some sense of purpose. The haze of nostalgia is undoubtedly powerful: Disney has been weaponizing it for the better half of its century-long history. But it’s been a long time since the illusion was totally effective, and that’s a big part of what keeps Wish, occasionally delightful as it may be, from justifying its existence.

Despite a game cast and some earnest, pop-infused music numbers, Wish doesn’t really have anything new to say. That wouldn’t be so bad if it existed in a vacuum. Disney’s rested on its laurels before, and has bounced back from far worse. But we’re a long way from the novelty that Steamboat Willie, The Lion King, or even Frozen offered the world. As the magic kingdom grew into a sprawling empire, animation became less of an artistic pursuit and more of an exercise in futility. Disney still strives to keep up with the times — but in the face of so much innovation elsewhere, could something like Wish ever be enough?

For what it’s worth, Wish does remix the Disney formula where it counts. Where most of its animated movies are pretty faithful to their respective time periods, Wish follows Disney’s live-action Little Mermaid down a path of anachronism. The kingdom of Rosas is our film’s fairy-tale setting, a melting pot of cultures where people of all creeds live in harmony. Its protagonist is Asha (Ariana DeBose), an adorkable Afro-Latina whose free-flowing box braids stand in cheeky defiance of Wish’s 13th-century setting. What is historical accuracy to a world where animals can talk, anyway?

Adding to the offbeat imprecision — albeit behind the scenes — is Chris Pine as the Hispanic-coded King Magnifico, the sovereign ruler of Rosas and sole magic-wielder of the realm. He founded the kingdom on the premise of safe-guarding his people’s wishes… literally. When each citizen of Rosas turns 18, they make a wish and hand it over to the king, who stores it in his castle and reserves the right to grant it at a later date.

As long as it’s not too dangerous or too vague, most wishes are fair game. But very few actually meet Magnifico’s requirements — and it’s not until Asha gets close to the sorcerer, in an audition to become his (wink!) apprentice, that she notices the flaws in this system… and starts asking one too many questions about it. No, she does not get the job: Like any authoritarian, Magnifico has a thing about too many questions. But that inspires her to make a powerful wish of her own, one that sends an impossibly cute anthropomorphic star hurtling from the heavens to help her make Rosas a more democratic place.

Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine play brilliantly off each other in Wish, but their chemistry is hindered by the film’s reluctance to innovate.


With Wish, Disney finds itself at its most self-reflective. It’s always been a company in conversation with itself — the trends, tropes, and motifs its films once created have become a sort of holy text to be remixed at will — but with other companies in the industry moving on to greener pastures, Disney’s most recent efforts have put it in an echo chamber of its own making.

There was a time where Disney’s house style was at least occasionally innovative. At the very least, it was frequently gorgeous to look at — but as the company distanced itself from hand-drawn animation and embraced the convenience of computer graphics, homogeny inevitably set in. Of course, by that time, Disney had long established itself as king of the castle: It’s hard to dissent against the progenitor of so many fond childhood memories, and the standard that so many others have followed. When Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse burst onto the scene, however, that spell was irrevocably broken — and Disney is still trying to catch up.

In the five years since Spider-Verse made imperfect, painterly visuals cool, a quiet revolution has taken hold in the industry. It’s no longer enough to coast on a polished, familiar technique, and for what it’s worth, Disney seems to recognize that. Wish runs on an interesting blend of old and new: computer-generated characters play in a 2D, watercolor world. It adds a literal bent to the storybook motif that opens the film, cribbed from classic Disney flicks like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. But it’s not quite enough to tip Wish into new territory.

At best, Wish is a fun tribute. At worst, it’s an Easter egg hunt.


Wish is, of course, meant to serve as an homage — but at every turn, it conflates that responsibility with rote imitation. So many of its characters feel like regurgitations of past favorites: “Disney face” has been an issue as far back as Tangled, and it rears its head again here, too. Its ideas are occasionally intriguing, especially when it’s willing to confront the part that fear and failure play in our daily lives. But too quickly does it slip into a more traditional (and trite) battle of good against evil, or worse: a winking reference to a far superior Disney film.

By the time Wish reaches its Fantasmic-inspired showdown, it’s hard to wonder if it would have functioned better as fan fiction than a celebration of a billion-dollar enterprise. This experiment is not without its merits, and hopefully it’s a sign that Disney is finally willing to take a harder look in the magic mirror. As great as its past triumphs have been, no amount of nostalgia can stand up to the excitement of something new. It’s time for the company to let go of its own fear — only then can it reclaim the innovation that once made it such a juggernaut in the first place.

Wish is now playing in theaters.

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