Disney shows its limits with ‘Wish’: “We wanted to honor our legacy while looking to the future”

Disney shows its limits with ‘Wish’: “We wanted to honor our legacy while looking to the future”

2023-11-20 23:36:24

Last year a movie titled Chip and Chop: The Guardians Rescuers came directly to Disney+. It combined various styles of animation with famous characters, reflected on the current dynamics of Hollywood and placed as a villain a remnant of the Peter Pan that actor Bobby Driscoll had helped create in the 1950s, but it was not part of Disney’s clear purpose for celebrate its imminent century of existence. Because, in short, it was a film marked by meanness—the aforementioned Peter Pan mocked the tragic destiny that Driscoll had had behind the cameras, typecast in child roles—and the animation was abysmally mediocre. It didn’t show the best side of Disney.

The point is that, compared to a short that also recently came to streaming, Once Upon a Time in a Studio, there were no big differences in terms of the poor formal apparatus and the window-dressing logic of chaining winks on the screen to the long history of the House of Mouse. Those nods reappear in Wish, the film that – this one really – has been conceived to celebrate the 100 years that have passed since Walt Disney and his brother Roy founded the company back in 1923. Peter Del Vecho, producer, justifies these winks. “From the beginning we wanted it to be an original story, that was important. Some of the nods fit naturally into the narrative, but once the foundation was laid, we were able to have fun adding other nods to the past.”

Chris Buck, director of Wish alongside Fawn Veerasunthorn, thus justifies the decision that the final credits of the film include drawings from the 59 previous Disney classics. “This way you can see 100 years of Disney animation, with its different styles.” However, Wish’s most notable relationship with the company’s memory lies in the same plot. “A constant in several of our films is having characters who wish upon the stars, and that was our main guide,” he says, referring to Tiana and the Frog or of course Pinocchio, whose song When You Wish Upon a Star has regularly served of melody to present the logo at the beginning of each new Disney classic.

When You Wish Upon a Star also plays on Wish, months after Disney+ once again became the privileged repository for the landing of a work of a historicist nature: the live-action remake of Pinocchio itself, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Another horrendous film, inappropriate to the prestige of the studio like Chip and Chop, over which Disney wanted to draw a thick veil to focus on Wish and ensure with desperate firmness that this is the definitive celebration film. “We felt like Walt was whispering in our ears that this movie should be about desires,” Buck insists.

“For this film we wanted to draw inspiration from the same artistic style that inspired Walt,” reveals director Veerasunthorn. “So we returned to those beautiful watercolor illustrations, typical of storybooks.” Wish does indeed have a distinctive look compared to recent Walt Disney Animation films. “But instead of doing exactly what was done in the past, we can now employ technology that can bring the public into that world. “So we wanted to honor our legacy while looking to the future.”

Veerasunthorn thus reasons the most striking feature of Wish: that mixture of 2D and 3D animation, which seems to arise astride a contemporary fever in American animation to adjust to hybridization. This is what Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse brought with it and is usually known as NPR (Non Photorealistic Rendering) animation, although we must not forget that it was Disney itself that helped popularize the technique with its Oscar-winning short in 2012, Paperman. A year earlier, the Mouse House had released what would be its last traditional animated feature film to date, Winnie the Pooh.

Since then, 2D drawings have only reappeared within a Disney feature film for a specific segment of Mary Poppins Returns, and they are neither present nor expected in Wish. Del Vecho maintains, despite everything, that “2D is still very much alive in the studio” and “clearly” influenced them in Wish. “This film takes the best of hand-drawn animation, while remaining entirely CGI. “What we wanted was to develop a look and a style that was reminiscent of classic films,” he adds. On the other hand, there is the fact that originally Wish was going to be a traditional animated feature film, justified by its homage nature, but already started production those responsible changed their mind and opted for a mix.

The visual aspect of Wish shows this turnaround. The three-dimensional animation that is still the norm in the American industry today has preeminence, as does the characteristic character design that it brought according to Disney was introduced in that field (particularly between Tangled and Frozen). Since this has not changed, nor has there been a unifying thought from the beginning, NPR ends up looking more like makeup, which at best goes unnoticed or, at worst, injects an annoying ‘Instagram filter’ feeling. to the expressiveness of the faces.

At that level, Wish is the least convincing student of a school that truly—and labor abuses aside—is being very beneficial to the medium in creative terms, and pales in comparison to the forcefulness of the recent Ninja Turtles or The Cat with boots: The last wish. The latter has a clear link with Wish, since it also started from storybook illustrations. The difference is that here the design of Shrek’s characters was updated to correspond to the decision, something that Wish does not do, preferring a return to more cosmetic than ultimately decisive coordinates.

This is what brings us to Wish’s much-hyped aspect ratio. The 2:55:1, a brilliant panoramic format that Disney had not used since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. A title whose medieval setting also aims to recall Wish. “Sleeping Beauty was the big influence, of course,” confirms Veerasunthorn. “This format is ideal for a cinema experience, and we developed the film specifically for this aspect ratio. “We wanted to highlight the beauty of every plane, every design and every texture, making sure the composition served the experience.” They are indeed wide and immersive shots, but are they of any use when what they frame is not as stimulating as intended?

Wish places us in an imaginary kingdom, Rosas, slightly inspired by the Iberian Peninsula. The Magnificent King rules the population through a convoluted system of wishes fulfilled or to be fulfilled: a system that young Asha discovers to be rigged and rebels against him. As a star appears who can grant wishes in a much more anarchic way than the evil Magnificent, Wish gives way to a parade of talking animals that sing, make jokes and generally flesh out most of the nods to Disney tradition.

Among them, the goat Valentino stands out, whose irregular comedy reflects the corseting in which Wish seems to have voluntarily wanted to get into. The commonplaces are therefore a constant in Buck and Veerasunthorn’s film, and underline the derivativeness of a set that is far removed from the excellence of recent Disney productions such as Charming, Raya and the Last Dragon or Frozen 2. Which does not mean that the film lacks points of interest or effectiveness, guaranteed by the timely updates of the Disney formula that the factory has been implementing for some time now.

Asha, in this way, is a Disney princess in the path of Elsa and Anna from Frozen. “What sets Asha apart is that she is not afraid to be herself,” notes Veerasunthorn. “She is comfortable in her own skin and she is able to question the king if she sees an injustice.” Asha functioning reasonably well as a heroine, the great success of Wish lies in its villain: an arrogant Magnificent King who draws on the mannerisms of his original interpreter Chris Pine, and comes to make up for the absence of strong antagonists in the latest Disney productions. “There was a desire to create another great villain,” Buck admits.

And, along with a great villain, the “villain songs” return. The musical number. Is this how you thank me? It is absolutely memorable, with the ability to stare at the soliloquies of Ursula or Scar (in The Little Mermaid and The Lion King) and in tune with an undeniable aspect of Wish: its solvency as a musical. The much-missed Renaissance of the 90s at Disney caught on, among other things, because it adapted to the styles of the Broadway show, and subsequent films have managed to maintain their appeal with specific rereadings, associated with the mutations typical of the New York scene. There is the unavoidable presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) in the soundtracks of Moana or Encanto.

Miranda doesn’t work at Wish, however. She is Julia Michaels, the main composer: someone who is “a big fan of Disney and grew up with all of her great musicals,” notes Del Vecho. “But she writes more contemporary music, which again was a perfect combination: respect for all the films that came before us, but also looking to the future.” The music shines in Wish, but like the Magnificent King it is overshadowed by the formal and narrative deficiencies of the proposal, and by the general feeling that it is not so much that the animals come to life as that it is the Disney+ catalog that does it. .

Hence, weighing successes and failures, sparks of creativity in the midst of corporate inertia, Wish also ends up fulfilling its purpose of representing 100 years of Disney, and offers a compact image of what the company is today. It could be a more beautiful or more promising image, but it is what it is.

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