A girl wishes upon a star and the star comes down to hang out in Wish, an underbaked mush of a fairy tale about the eternal struggle between security and liberty that also has the feel of a half-hearted Disney IP origin story.
Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) is a 17-year-old living back in the once upon a time on the Mediterranean-y island of Rosas, which is ruled by King Magnifico (voice of Chris Pine), who founded the city-state years earlier with his wife Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral). King Magnifico is a good sorcerer and he designed Rosas as a land where people of all backgrounds could come and live together in peace and safety under his rule — so right away you know he’s a villain. But this would be a real short movie if everyone else realized it, so the people of Rosas just think of him as a benevolent ruler who grants wishes. Every citizen gives Magnifico their wishes when they turn 18 — wishes being represented by a sort of glowy bubble — and he keeps them safe. Regularly, he picks one citizen to have their wish come true, which he accomplishes with his magic. In the meantime, the adult populace is not burdened by these wishes, the content of which they forget.
Asha is interviewing to be his apprentice and help him with his magic-ing. Perhaps she’s a little hopeful that doing this will help her 100-year-old grandfather Sabino (voice of Victor Garber) and her mother Sakina (voice of Natasha Rothwell) get their wishes granted. But when she sees her grandfather’s wish bubble floating around Magnifico’s wish bubble arboretum and asks Magnifico to grant it, he basically says “no job for you” explaining that her grandfather’s vague desire to create something that inspires future generations could lead to revolution or violence.
A dejected Asha later sings a song about wanting more for her people than All Of This and poof, a star appears. The star is a cute little blob of a thing that squeaks around and sprinkles glitter dust, giving animals, like Asha’s pet goat Valentino (voice of Alan Tudyk), the ability to talk and sing another song about how we are all made of star dust. Asha becomes determined to retrieve her family’s wishes — and eventually everybody’s wishes — so people can have the chance to make them come true on their own. As Asha’s friends observe of their 18-year-old buddy Simon (voice of Evan Peters), giving up their wish makes people a little less themselves, less whole.
Meanwhile, the magical light show caused when the star came to Earth has Magnifico worried that someone else is using magic and challenging his rule. He can’t figure out what’s going on with his own good-guy magic so he turns to a book of dark magic and also asking people to fink on each other to try to find this Threat to Rosas. He goes from being a basically benign dictator who is maybe a little too impressed with his own handsomeness to being a megalomaniac who won’t tolerate any dissent because one teen girl asked him a question.
Also, Asha maybe invents animation using the tiny-drawing-on-a-page-corner flipbook method?
We get a lot of information about the Wish — how it makes people feel to give it to Magnifico, how he cares for them, what he does with them when he gets his dark magic, why he is such a helicopter mom about people’s hopes and dreams. There is a general “Magnifico lost his birth family in a land riven with strife,” which is what pushed him to make a cheery dystopia. But there is a sense of “oh and also this” when it comes to story elements rather than a clear, streamlined story with clear motivations for Magnifico. Similarly, the movie is filled with general Disney Easter Eggs that often play as in-jokes and almost appear to maybe sort of build up to something — “and that’s how A became B” — but also don’t really. All the nods to Peter Pan and Bambi etc. (and all the visuals that feel like “remember that cottage from Sleeping Beauty? This isn’t that but hey made you think of it didn’t we?”) feel more like a fast food “100 years of Disney” promotional meal package than a real story. There’s a world in which Disney just creates a montage of discussion of wishes and dreams with clips from its movie library and achieves the same thing (that thing I think being the centrality of wishes and dreams to Disney stories) with more genuine emotion and brevity.
Wish feels like a movie that had some general ideas of what it wanted to do and where it wanted to go but had no clear idea how to get there and so it just filled in the gaps with “default Disney story” stuff. Likewise, the music feels very much like someone shoved Frozen and Moana into a food processor and this is the texture-less paste that came out. The songs here read as extremely first-drafty and forgettable.
All that said, my kids and other kids in a very full theater seemed to be mostly hanging in with this movie — perking up the most when Valentino the goat was in on the action (the line, which also appears in the trailers, that involves him saying he found a secret door with his butt got a big laugh). The talking animals do provide some nice moments of weirdness and I wish (ha) the movie had gone more in on that kind of goofiness than on creating something that feels more like a commemorative coin than a lively new story. C+
Rated PG for thematic elements and mild action, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn with a screenplay by Jennifer Lee & Allison Moore, Wish is an hour and 35 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Walt Disney Studios.
Trolls Band Together
Poppy, Branch and the crew reunite for a caper winding them through the music of pop boy bands of the last 30+ years in Trolls Band Together, a perfectly cromulent hour and a half of kid entertainment.
Poppy (voice of Anna Kendrick), queen of the Trolls, and Branch (voice of Justin Timberlake), her frequently grumpy boyfriend, prepare for the marriage of Poppy’s good friend Bridget (voice of Zooey Deschanel) and Gristle (voice of Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Bridget and Gristle are both Bergens, who are larger and more monstery than Trolls and used to eat Trolls but now everybody parties together. As Bridget and Gristle say their I-dos, the ceremony is interrupted by John Dory (voice of Eric Andre), Branch’s long-estranged brother. Branch and his four brothers were once members of the boy band BroZone together but broke up after a concert went wrong when they tried to achieve the perfect family harmony. John Dory wants the group back together to give perfection another try as he thinks it will be the only thing that can break the diamond bottle their brother Floyd (voice of Troye Sivan) is being held in. Floyd was trollnapped by Velvet (voice of Amy Schumer) and Veneer (voice of Andrew Rannells), a brother-sister pop duo of plasticy-looking creatures. They are personally talentless but have devised a way of draining Floyd of his talent to make them seem like the superstar vocalists they pretended to be.
As Floyd was Branch’s kindest brother, he decides to join John Dory on his quest, eventually scooping up other brothers Spruce (Daveed Diggs), who now calls himself Bruce and runs a resort with his wife and many children, and Clay (voice of Kid Cudi) to rescue Floyd. Along the way, the gang comes across an old Bergen putt-putt course that is now home to a band of Trolls left behind in Bergen Town all those years ago when Poppy and her father, then-King Peppy (voice of Walt Dohrn), escaped. As has already been spoiled in some of the trailers, one of those Trolls is a fast-talking, quick-hair-braiding, high-energy Troll named Viva (voice of Camila Cabello), Poppy’s long-lost sister. Viva is excited to see Poppy again but does not know about or believe the news that Trolls and Bergens are now friends.
As with other entries in this jukebox sugarfest series, Trolls Band Together pastes together bits of boy band song elements — reaching back to Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block as well as Timberlake’s own NSYNC, which delivers a new original song for this movie and all the moms seeing it who remember a boy band fandom of their youth. It’s cute, as the music always is in these movies, though this one doesn’t feel quite as tune-packed as previous entries. This movie also feels less about Poppy than previous entries, which focused on Poppy’s leadership or Poppy’s friendship with Branch. Here, she feels more along for the ride.
And that’s all fine. These movies aren’t Pixar-in-its-prime levels of story-telling and visual delight. But they are fast-moving, upbeat, silly and occasionally weird in a way that provides a nice little tart element to all this cotton candy. They are kid-friendly without being actively adult off-putting. B-
Rated PG for some mild rude and suggestive humor, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Walt Dohrn and Tim Heitz with a screenplay by Elizabeth Tippet, Trolls Band Together is an hour and 31 minutes long and distributed in theaters by Universal Studios.
Featured photo: Wish.