Wish: 2/10

Wish wants to be about Disney's long history of animated films, and what ties them all together. It takes place in an Spanish-themed medieval-ish island kingdom in the Mediterranean, built and led a sorcerer-king with an ethos based on keeping and granting wishes. Asha wants to be his apprentice, in part so she can help her 100-year-old grandfather have his wish granted. It goes badly. She wishes upon a star, her wish is granted, Disney hijinks ensue. Asha is cast out and hunted as a revolutionary. The King has an Evil Villain Song, friendship wins over fascism, The End.

It wasn't good.

At the heart of my frustration is that it probably could have been made good. What I wrote above is flawed, sure, but at heart it's not an utterly broken premise. But Disney is having its 100th Anniversary right now, and so they had to get working on this before the pieces could be put together into something coherent and competent. It was now or never, and they made the mistake of not choosing never.

So, what did they focus on? The musical numbers, for one; they clearly wanted Billboard hits. They focused on theatricality, so that these scenes could end up in a stage play later. They focused on the visual designs of the characters, especially making them multi-cultural and multi-abled. They focused on the call backs to past movies, especially the wishes, and offered visual nods to everything they could stuff in. And they focused on revolution, standing up to evil and fascism, and how the simplest act of defiance means something.

But, going through those. Ugh.

The musical numbers: Lin Manuel Miranda they wanted, but did not get. The first number desperately tried to be 'Family Madrigal' from Encanto, for instance, but had neither the charm nor the love. They had multiple Evil Villain songs, meant to show the progression, and, well, okay. There was a Revolution Song, there was the Theme Of The Movie song, there was the 'We Are All Star Stuff' song, and there was the Reprise. I don't feel like anything really landed; we're not going to get a 'Let It Go' or 'We Don't Talk About Bruno' or even a 'Shiny'. Some of this stuff may end up in the repertoire of Disney songs, but I'm not sure.

The theatricality: this felt like it needed another pass. I could easily see the characters walking across the stage to another group of actors, and sets being reused; it felt like the point of the exercise, frankly, and it made the scenes visually less interesting than they needed to be.

The visual designs: this mostly went okay, but there were too many characters that ended up as metaphors of past characters rather than characters themselves. "Oh, he was meant to reference MOVIE X, that's why he was acting that way!" is okay for a background character, not for somebody with dozens of lines! They needed to trim more characters out of the medium roles and down to pure cameos, so that the remainders could have given them a chance to exist. (All that said I appreciated the sentiment of the multi-cultural society and the nod to a character with a disability.)

The callbacks: it's hard to get into it without getting into spoilers. Some of the references were clever and interesting. Far more of them felt forced but not really clever; this wasn't as clever as Shrek, or even random cross-references in Marvel movies. It felt more shallow than loving, and they didn't really help each other out very often. They didn't gel well, and didn't really offer a new perspective on the old work. But they were something to focus on, and will probably be fun to talk about for a while.

Finally, the revolution stuff. Sigh. I wanted to like this, and I still want to like this, and it seems the part most likely to have value and resonance going forward, but it just felt pro forma. The bad guy is bad, therefore the people most rise up, and do so within the context of the movie; but it still felt lazy? Too simple, too pat? I don't know how this could have been fixed, though. This is the part that most makes me wish for some rewrites, some new ideas, some new metaphorical ideas of how to fight that evil and how to deal with it afterwards.

I have more complaints than this! The things they did focus on seemed best for the trailers and otherwise mostly unconnected to the story (the Alan Tudyk goat, the chicken dance number). The artistic design (a 2D looking version of their 3D work) was about half as interesting as it wanted to be, but I respect the attempt. The kingdom itself made very little sense: its age, its location, its political structure, its technology level, simple questions like "no heirs?". The villain's backstory was overly-hinted at but otherwise ignored. The movie felt way too long and way too short. Magical traps were pointed out and then ignored. Maybe some of these would have been polished out with time, but probably not all of them.

My wife thinks that, if this hadn't been a Disney movie, it would have been more forgivable. I'm just not sure how it could have gotten made without being a Disney movie. And as it was, I still think it should have been dropped. The good parts weren't worth it.