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Disney has stellar hopes for this charming but old-school family musical. A graceful homage to classic Mouse House fairy tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Wish has been released with much fanfare as part of Disney’s centenary celebrations.
Centered on a nostalgia-laden wishing ‘star’, a Disney staple since Pinocchio, it sends plucky, adorkable teen Asha (Ariana DeBose) to apprentice herself to benevolent sorcerer King Magnifico (a sly Chris Pine), who collects his happy population’s wishes, granting a lucky few their heart’s desires in thrilling, X Factor-style ceremonies.
Directors Chris Buck (Frozen) and Fawn Veerasunthorn paint the medieval kingdom of Rosas in gorgeous watercolour landscapes reminiscent of Snow White, but give Asha (the first Afro-Latina Disney heroine) a distinctly modern gutsiness. Discovering that Magnifico secretly uses the wishes to control his subjects, she enlists the cute, trouble-making Star that’s fallen to earth to help her free the people with its wild magic.
Trouble is, writer Jennifer Lee’s wholesome script is so busy wrapping Asha in Disney homages (stardusted woodland creatures serenade her; her cheerful best friends are based on the Seven Dwarfs) that it skimps on the film’s emotional engagement. As Asha scrambles doggedly to release the stolen wishes Magnifico has trapped in pearly glass balls, the movie starts to feel sweetly predictable and just a bit… worthy.
Where’s something to rival the sister-jeopardy that electrified Frozen, or the hilarious bond that Moana forged with Maui? Valentino, Asha’s newly talking pet goat (Alan Tudyk) is a quirky delight, but neither he nor the squeakily adorable Star (a multi-million merch opportunity in the making) have any depth. The film also needs more musical-theatre-style oomph, a few Encanto-type bangers to enliven its forgettable soundtrack. DeBose works valiantly to put heart into the wistful 'I-want' song This Wish, but it’s still a verbose pop ballad that your kids won’t be singing on repeat.
For the first time in forever, though, Disney has a proper villain. Chris Pine gives Magnifico’s transformation into a Maleficent-esque monster his best shot, gleefully whipping fluo-green 'Forbidden Magic' around his subjects in a storm of power-crazed narcissism. In a movie that’s beautifully animated and nicely played, and full of child-friendly lessons about mistaking social control for protection, he’s the big ball of malevolent energy who proves that bad guys have more fun.
Wish is released in US cinemas on November 22 and in UK cinemas on November 24.
Check out our list of the best Disney movies you can watch now.