“Imagine a place where wishes come true. Where your heart’s desire can become a reality. What if I told you that place is within reach? All you have to do is give your wish … to me.”
Disney has been taking us around the world in its efforts to duplicate its achievements with a certain princess that had to let it all go. And while I respect what they are trying to attempt, I doubt they are going to find that kind of lightning-in-a-bottle success that they found with that movie with Wish. That is not to say that Wish was not a enjoyable experience; I just don’t feel that the story came together fully in the manner that would make it iconic. However, I fully appreciate Disney’s efforts with taking us across the globe to foreign lands. And while the lands and areas tend to be fictional, they are always clearly inspired by real-life areas with diverse cultures. It reminds me of EPCOT and feels very inclusive. This time around, we are taken to the fictional land of Rosas, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, where the people are protected by King Magnifico and his wife Queen Amaya. Having studied magic and sorcery, Magnifico has become a powerful practitioner and gained the ability to grant the wishes of his subjects. When each resident of Rosas turns 18, a ceremony is held where they give up their wish to Magnifico, who keeps them sealed in his observatory. Once a month, Magnifico selects one of the residents’ wishes to be granted before the city.
This concept is very intriguing, and it embraces a tried-and-true philosophy about life, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Now, based on that summary above, you’d probably draw the conclusion that Magnifico was our protagonist. And yet, you would be wrong with that assumption. This element of the film is what most intrigued me, because for all intents and purposes, Magnifico appears to be benevolent and generous. However, and I’m not spoiling anything as this fact is made quite clear by the film’s promotion and marketing, Magnifico is actually the film’s antagonist. That said, in my opinion Magnifico was the most interesting and fully-developed character in the movie. I’d put him in the realm of Scar or Jafar in terms of villain quality. In their realm, but not completely on par with them, as there were elements of the character that could have been further explained that would have worked better for his development. They got a top-level talent to voice the character in Chris Pine, but his backstory was only hinted at. To me, that was what I most wanted to know about. There was clearly tragedy in his life, an event that cost him dearly and shaped the person that he would become. For me, he wasn’t a true villain. He was misunderstood. There were some things that he did that were morally questionable, but in truth, he didn’t fit the irredeemable mold that the film was attempting to fit him into.
Our heroine is actually Asha, a young idealistic young woman who finds herself questioning the king’s benevolence, which comes at some personal cost as well as knowledge that she feels compelled to act on. I did like Asha, particularly the fact that she was not afraid to question authority or act against what she believes to be injustice, even at personal cost. As a father, this is an ideal role model for my children. Granted, she is at times rash, but she is clearly a person of integrity, and what more can you ask for in a Disney princess, albeit she is not actually a princess.
For me, a Disney movie is one-third story, one-third compelling characters, and one-third music. We’ve pretty much covered characters, so let’s move on to story quality. As I mentioned above, I just don’t feel like the story came together fully. There was an inciting incident that drove the plot forward in the introduction of a character with a mission. But even that came across as clumsy and wasn’t fully explained to my satisfaction. Yes, the reasoning behind the mission was sound, but further explanation was needed, if you ask me. The trouble was the decision to make the only character that could have properly articulated the need for action a non-speaking role. Also, the action that prompted the introduction of this non-speaking character is not explained, merely speculated about. Once again, this could have been avoided by giving the aforementioned character a voice. Characters that did not need to speak such as a goat were given a voice, and while I am deeply fond of Alan Tudyk and would never wish him out of the film. I think it would have been better to shift his vocal talents to our non-speaking character and have the goat maintain his personality, but without speech. That would have made the film a better setup more in the vein of Disney’s proven formula, having Tudyk in a role that was reminiscent of Genie from Aladdin and the goat a role similar to that of Abu.
The final one-third was probably the film’s biggest success in my opinion: the music. Every Disney film needs signature music that will stick in yours and your family’s heads until you feel compelled to download the song and sing it aloud while you play it in the car. Part of the Disney devious plan, I suspect. There were at least three songs in the film that I believe fit that description courtesy of Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Julia Michaels, who has written songs for the likes of Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony, Shawn Mendes, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Hailee Steinfeld, and Gwen Stefani. A bit hokey, but those three in order of likelihood of being sung: Knowing What I Know Now, This Is the Thanks I Get?, and I’m a Star.
The film pays several homages to classic Disney films that came before it. I myself counted references to at least three classic Disney films. Some of these homages are more subtle than others, but I challenge you to see if you can spot more. Speaking of homages, make sure you stay behind for the after-credits scene that reveals the Disney song which was clearly the inspiration for the film. Here’s a hint: it’s all in the name.