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Asha, voiced by Ariana DeBose, in a scene from Disney's Wish.Disney/The Associated Press


  • Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn
  • Written by Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore
  • Featuring the voices of Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine and Alan Tudyk
  • Classification G; 91 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Nov. 22

To mark its 100th anniversary, Walt Disney Studios has decided to throw itself a birthday party in the form of a new feature film called Wish – a big and bright musical revolving around the question that the company has asked generations of moviegoers: What happens when you wish upon a star?

The gift-unto-itself is a nice enough present if one can afford it, which the Mouse House most certainly can. Despite enduring centennial-era rough patches across almost every one of its divisions, from Marvel to Pixar, Disney remains the not-so-secret envy of all legacy Hollywood players, and for good reason: When everything comes together just right, dreams do come true. And cash registers ring.

But while Disney has seen a few of its wishes granted this year – namely, the actors’ strike ending just as it releases its big U.S. Thanksgiving movie featuring the voices of Oscar winner Ariana DeBose and the most popular of the Hollywood Chrises (that’d be Chris Pine) – its one big Wish falls just short of shooting-star status.

An original tale of magic and kindness – those two essential ingredients in any Disney potion – Wish opens with the story of the brave and kind King Magnifico (Pine), a mighty sorcerer who established the Kingdom of Rosas as an island sanctuary for anyone who has a wish that they hope to one day fulfill. All seems well in the bucolic land until the teenage Asha (DeBose) applies for a job as the sorcerer’s apprentice – one of the many wink-wink nudges Disney makes to its own canon, including Asha’s seven friends whose individual traits resemble those of the Seven Dwarfs, and some quick nods to everything from Peter Pan to Zootopia. (I didn’t catch any Song of the South callbacks, but perhaps viewers will spot them on repeated viewings.)

Oh right, back to the story: After getting close to Magnifico, Asha discovers that something is rotten in the state of wishes, and begins a courageous quest to save Rosas with the help of her very own star, appropriately named Star and whose physical appearance resembles a cross between Nintendo’s Kirby, Pokemon’s Pikachu, and that suicidal yellow cutie from this past spring’s Super Mario Bros. Movie. Can Asha and Star stop Magnifico and find their own sense of purpose before it’s too late?

You don’t need to know your Bambis from your Baloos to guess the answer, though it wouldn’t have hurt screenwriters Allison Moore and Jennifer Lee (the latter a key player in the Frozen juggernaut) to make things a bit more complex and unpredictable. While it is refreshing to see Asha as a heroine unconcerned by romantic pursuits (and DeBose has enough energy to enliven a dozen Disney princesses), her arc isn’t half as interesting as Magnifico’s, a potentially layered character the filmmakers are doggedly intent on leaving as a one-sided villain. Meanwhile, the attempt to turn Asha’s pet goat Valentino into a Disney-fied version of Shrek’s Donkey feels particularly desperate, no matter how hard actor Alan Tudyk tries to out-Murphy Eddie Murphy in the role.

The animation also feels half-caught between inspired and derivative, with the vivid backgrounds – woodland cottages and sky-high castles – etched in striking watercolour but the characters and animals rendered with a lifeless kind of computer animation that recalls the soulless eyes of Cocomelon.

Thank goodness, then, for the songs. While Wish isn’t approaching Frozen levels of earworms, the film’s songwriting team of Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice deliver a healthy amount of hummable hits, including the standout track This Wish. Best of all, the team does so in a more classical, knock-down-the-house kind of way, all thunderous choruses and ensemble harmonies, a welcome respite from the rapid-fire shtick of recent in-house Disney song-mogul Lin-Manuel Miranda. The tunes are generously sprinkled throughout the film, perhaps directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn’s way of acknowledging that their film works best when the characters are singing through their problems instead of unimaginatively talking through them.

Ultimately, there are no problems here that another 100 years cannot fix. I wish I may, I wish I might …

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