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Disney’s animated musical wishes for a star

“When You Wish Upon a Star” is also one of those songs that is bigger than a song like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Of course, it was first sung by Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Walt Disney animated classic “Pinocchio.” Disney made it the company’s theme song in the ’50s, and it has appeared in the studio’s movie theater logo since the early ’80s. Steven Spielberg added a layer of pixie dust to the song’s mythology when he described how close he came to playing the song in the final moments of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” For Disney, “When You Wish Upon a Star” is more than an anthem; It is a totem of corporate magic, an expression of everything the company stands for and values.

So what does it mean that the studio’s flashy new animated musical, “Wish,” is a truly theme park-ready example of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” even if it doesn’t quite showcase it? The movie is a folk tale wishesand how they are created starsand it doesn’t matter who you are when you have one.

To me, this means that Disney, in the midst of celebrating its 100th anniversary, has become a company so self-focused that it has now produced a kind of fairy-tale signifier of its own brand. The studio’s cartoons have always borrowed bits and pieces from each other (what are all those princesses, all those talking animals and singing utensils, and Simba’s loss of his father in “The Lion King” but the death of Bambi’s mother?). But “Wish” self-consciously packs 85 years of animation magic into a portable Disney tale. Does that make it a recapitulation or a pastiche? A movie laced with pop history or stuffed with Easter eggs? The one that started the next Disney century or the one stuck in the last century? Maybe all of the above.

Since most viewers of Disney cartoons are young children, “The Wish” can be experienced on its own “innocent” terms, as if they had never heard of Disney or seen their movies. In that sense, it’s a visually pleasing, highly watchable, magical slice of product with a plot that’s both mildly poignant and slightly odd.

The film is set in the magical kingdom of Rosas, a tropical island whose inhabitants live a life of utopian serenity; but there is a rather dubious reason for this: each of them has a wish – the thing they would most want in the world – but they have given They make their wishes to King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), a devilishly handsome, seemingly benevolent wizard who rules the island and apparently rules their dreams, too. Once you give your wish to Magnifico (he collects them in blue glass bubbles that float above his majestic tower), you no longer have that wish; Now you’re free of it and you can’t even remember what it is anymore. Someday Magnifico may or may not give it to you (probably not, from what we’ve learned). But it doesn’t matter! Living without wishes, your soul is carefree. Who wouldn’t want this?

actually who to want wants? For a while, “The Wish” could almost be an allegory for the age of psychotropic drugs, or I seriously doubt what the film’s creators intended: a metaphor for life in the age of corporate entertainment (the kind marketed by Disney, for example). Individual dreams are bought and replaced by the numbing security of collective fantasy.

The film’s 17-year-old protagonist, Asha (Ariana DeBose), is a spunky, sharp-tongued idealist who learned from her late father that making a wish is something you wish on a star and then carry with you. This is the deepest part of who you are. Asha applies to be the emperor’s new apprentice and wants to impress Magnifico, a goateed smoothie, when he arrives for her interview. But she can’t help but question how the “Your wish is mine until I decide to give it back to you” thing works. Her courageous stance mobilizes Magnifico, revealing his true nature. He is a gentle leader until his authority is questioned, at which point his inner authoritarianism comes out. We’re talking about a ruthless corporate leader crossed with Maleficent, as well as the first Disney villain who looks like she’s using serious hair product.

Inspired by her father, Asha single-handedly makes a wish so powerful that it lights up the night sky and makes every citizen of Rosas glow with warmth. The wish comes. It’s… a star! She’s sparkly yellow, darts around like a Tinkerbell cross with a cute emoji, scatters fairy dust, and talks in her high-pitched cute chirps. The name of the star is… Star. Even though it looks like something you might hang on a cell phone above a baby’s crib, the magic of the Star is real. In one swift movement all the local animals start talking; one of them, Asha’s three-week-old pet goat, Valentino (Alan Tudyk), with the hilarious antics of a Disney sidekick. A branch with a spot of light on it becomes Asha’s magic wand. And all of this will give him what he needs to take on Magnifico, who becomes a light show in his own right when he searches for the dark magic book that gives him extraordinary power. The film turns against Asha and her lovable angel star Magnifico and her evil green phosphorescent light, as the fate of the island’s inhabitants – and their wishes – hangs in the balance.

Co-written by Jennifer Lee (with Allison Moore), who executive produced the film, and co-directed by Chris Buck (with Fawn Veerasunthorn), the powerhouse team behind the “Frozen” films, “Wish” is unlike any other. Disney animated features. The images resemble softly drawn calendar art paintings, without the usual kaleidoscopic splashes of color; Here, a softer palette of blue, green, grey, pink and lavender creates a lovely storybook texture. And Chris Pine’s impressive performance certainly gives you someone to root for. Magnifico starts out as one of the bad guys with a “human” side, but when he starts casting spells, Pine turns him into a self-satisfied narcissist-dictator.

It’s not like the combat has a lot of texture, though. Disney’s iconic animated films of the last decade, “Frozen” and “Encanto,” both featured female protagonists struggling with their own natures. In “Wish” the lines are drawn so clearly that they cannot touch our imagination. Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice’s songs are catchy, yet consumable, making it hard not to notice how much they emulate Lin-Manuel Miranda’s school of verbal aggression wrapped in hooks. I’m sorry, but there’s no “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” or “Let Him Go” here. This may sound like a high bar, but it was Disney with the quality of the songs (and movies) that set the bar high. The strategy behind “Wish” seems to be this: respect The audience will be fascinated by the magic. But real magic cannot be recycled.


MPA rating: PG (for thematic elements and mild action)

Running time: 1:35

How to watch: In theaters November 22

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