Critics Are Split Over Disney's Wish, With Some Calling The Animated Film A ‘Celebration,’ While Others Say It Lacks Heart


Disney is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and anticipation is especially high for Wish, its animated November offering. Many of the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ best features have come around Thanksgiving in years past, including Frozen, Coco, Wreck-It Ralph and Encanto. Wish features Asha (Ariana DeBose) as its heroine, who rebels against King Magnifico (Chris Pine) when she discovers the injustice of the king keeping — and only sparingly granting — his subjects’ deepest wishes. Critics have seen the upcoming Disney movie, so let’s see what they think.

First reactions to Wish were mostly positive, with several critics seemingly agreeing that this is the perfect film to celebrate Disney’s centenarian milestone. Our own Sarah El-Mahmoud agrees with that assessment in CinemaBlend’s review of Wish, as she notes how the movie honors the studio’s classic films with watercolor-like settings, talking animals, catchy tunes and a strong heroine. She rates it 4 stars out of 5, writing:

Asha resembles recent Disney heroines like Anna, Mirabel or Moana, who are likable, a little awkward and guided by her own headstrong dreams – sometimes to a fault. Familiar as it may be, when DeBose’s dynamic voice belts out the movie’s ‘I Want’ song, ‘This Wish,” it’s near-impossible not to melt at Walt Disney Animation’s winning formula being revisited once again.

Kate Stables of GamesRadar rates Wish 3 out of 5 stars, saying the studio succeeds in making a cute and earnest fairy tale, but due to the emphasis on homage, the end result lacks heart. Stables continues:

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.

Brian Truitt of USA TODAY acknowledges that critics looking for fault in the movie will find it, with Wish beating the Disney drum a little hard. However, Ariana DeBose is the film’s saving grace as Asha, with her plucky verve and powerhouse vocals. Truitt gives the movie 3 out of 4 stars, saying:

The original songs by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice are solid. ‘Welcome to Rosas’ is nicely peppy, Pine turns on the snarling smarm for villain song ‘This Is the Thanks I Get?!’ and ‘This Wish’ is the obvious highlight, soon to become a staple on many a little girl’s streaming playlist. The movie’s an effective vehicle for DeBose’s considerable talents: The Broadway veteran imbues Asha with an unmistakable, magnetic warmth and in her own way, she’s as full-throated a force of nature as Idina Menzel’s ice queen Elsa.

Kate Erbland of IndieWire agrees that if viewers keep their focus on Asha, Star and Magnifico (as Chris Pine is clearly enjoying his delicious villain role), there’s definitely a lot to like as the House of Mouse throws back to its past while hinting at what the future holds. The critic grades the movie a B+ and says:

As Disney celebrates its 100th year, Wish serves as a throwback to the past, a celebration of the present, and a gentle push into the future… Asha’s journey is a classic one, but her biracial background, the immigrant story at its heart, her diverse group of friends, and skipping a love-interest subplot hint at something more subversive, something more timely, something more interesting afoot in the House of Mouse. That’s what we wish to see more of, and soon.

For some, though, the movie just doesn’t work. Petrana Radulovic of Polygon describes what sounds like an “if you try to please everyone, you won't please anyone” scenario. Every detail, the critic writes, is a deliberate reminder of another movie that came before it — usually something better and more unique. Radulovic continues:

Wish feels like what you’d get if you asked a group of C-suite executives armed with ChatGPT to come up with a Disney movie that would please everyone. The prompts: Bring back traditional Disney villains! Give us songs that sound like the big Disney hits! We want a sweet family relationship, and also some kooky friends, and also goofy animal sidekicks! Throw in a few inoffensive butt jokes for kids! And a lot of Easter-egg references to previous Disney movies! But all that calculation — prioritizing that shopping list of elements that make a Disney hit, rather than starting with the story — strips Wish of any heart it could’ve had. It’s the most blandly inoffensive Disney film to date.

The critics seem split over how well Disney was able to balance its goal of honoring the past while portraying its vision of the future or even telling a good story in the present. It does sound, though, like there are enough crowd-pleasing elements here, especially for a younger audience who may not be as concerned about the things that irked the critics.

If Wish sounds like something you’d like to check out, you can do so soon! The movie is set to hit theaters on Wednesday, November 22, and be sure to check out our 2023 movie release calendar to see what else is coming to the big screen before the end of the year.