Disney’s Wish Depicts a Hero and Villain With a Different Kind of Dynamic

Thứ sáu - 17/05/2024 23:42
The creators of the new Disney animated film on honoring the 100th anniversary of the company with characters that feel familiar but different.
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This morning, the trailer was released for Wish, the 62nd feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, and one that has a lot of significance because it’s opening as the entire Disney company celebrates their 100th anniversary. A few years ago, realizing the anniversary was approaching, Disney Animation Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee (who wrote and Co-Directed both Frozen films) decided they should tell a classic fairy tale type story to mark the milestone, making it a musical as well because of the history of that genre within Disney, with songs written by Julia Michales.

Unlike the many Disney fairy tale films that are adaptations, Wish is an original story, taking place long ago in the Kingdom of Rosas, off of the Iberian Peninsula, where the people all live under the seemingly benevolent rule of King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine). Magnifico is a powerful magician with the ability to pull your greatest wish from you to store it, protect it, and then, if you’re one of the few chosen lucky ones, to have that wish granted. However, 17 year old Asha (Ariana DeBose), initially a true believer in Magnifico, begins to see the dark side of what he’s doing and how it leaves people with no memory of what once was their greatest desire – and her ensuing encounter with an actual wishing star leads to some very unusual occurrences, as Asha strives to change things for the better.

Lee, who co-wrote Wish with Allison Moore, previewed footage from the film this past week for press at Disney’s El Capitan Theater, alongside directors Chris Buck (Co-Director of Tarzan and Frozen) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (head of story on Raya and the Last Dragon and making her directorial debut here) and producers Peter Del Vecho and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones. In the wake of this event, I spoke to these members of the Wish creative team about crafting Asha and Magnifico, going old school with their bad guy in a way other recent Disney films haven’t, and how these two stand out from other Disney hero/villain pairings by actually seeing each other’s perspective – at least initially.


Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose) in Disney's 'Wish'

Jennifer Lee had noted that they knew pretty much from the start Wish needed to be a classic-style Disney animated film, as in a musical fairy tale. But one component of what we associate with those early films – and which has certainly continued to be an element in several other major films from the company, including recent releases – that is not present is centering the film on a Princess, given Asha is simply a normal local girl.

When I asked Lee about skipping this aspect, she replied, “I can’t speak to the past, but since I’ve been there, there was never this sort of charge like they had to be princess or not,” noting characters like Mirabel who are not. Lee said that, at least with Disney’s recent films, it often was about deciding what would make the heroine’s challenge the greatest, explaining, “Liike for Frozen, we didn’t originally have [Anna and Elsa] as royalty, but then recognizing that having to carry the responsibility of the kingdom while all this was happening – not making the idea of being king or queen the reward, but making it add to the challenge –  was just too exciting to do. That fits. And with Raya, that was her challenge, the responsibility and burden she carried. It added to her conflict. So we were looking at it differently.”

However, Lee said, “With Asha, the most important thing is [asking] what is that ordinary hero that becomes extraordinary that’s a part of classic classic fairy tales. It isn’t about old European societal structure. If you go to Hans Christian Andersen or Brothers Grimm, it’s just buried into the nature of where they were created.”

With Wish, Lee stressed, “It’s about all of us. And that moment where you look at this world, and you see the flaws in it, and you decide, ‘How am I going to take that on?’ And you can have that question from any position in the world. And it was more exciting to have it from a place of absolutely no power in terms societal structure, but then recognizing the incredible power of each individual. So for Asha, it wasn’t something that in any way was necessary for our story or fit it. At least since I’ve been here, that’s how we’ve approached ‘To Princess or not to Princess?’ I guess you could call it.”


Asha and Star in Disney's 'Wish'

One classic element of Asha is she does truly wish upon a star and Fawn Veerasunthorn said they dug deep on why she would be wishing for something in the first place when crafting the character. “What happens in her life? I think from the beginning, we kind of knew where we wanted Asha to end up, but kind of working backwards with our writers, Jennifer Lee and Alison Moore, and also our fantastic story artists team, everyone was pushing for ‘We want to see her growth. We want to you want to enjoy this journey, we want to ride along with her.’”

Veerasunthorn said that mandate “brought us to someone who truly believes in the city that she grew up with, and had so much love for it not knowing that there was something else happening on the underbelly of it all. And we really were attracted to that character who was has so much passion and love for Rosas and its people and one day was faced with this dilemma of the truth about it. ‘Oh, what am I going to do about it? I cannot sit still.’ Because when you’re 17, you have so much… We call it ‘stupid courage’ that you believe in something so much. And you are fearless about it. And we love those type of characters, someone that would not give up. So that’s what we love about Asha.”

Visual development artwork for 'Wish' from Disney's Animation Research Library is displayed during the press event at the El Capitan

In a film meant to honor Disney’s past, Chris Buck remarked, “The more we crafted Asha, the more we realized the parallels between her and Walt… Someone who had a wish and had a dream and had passion and wouldn’t give up on it.” Buck noted all the cynicism Disney faced when embarking on his big endeavors like making the first-ever feature length animated film or building his own theme park but that “He kept going. He had the passion and the drive of this 17 year old. After we were crafting Asha, we looked back at Walt’s life and sort of went, ‘Wow, this is pretty amazing.’”

Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster said they wanted to feel like Asha was a real person, noting, “I think that relativity of someone that is real also comes from some of our wonderful creators like Jennifer Lee,  Fawn Veerasunthorn, Alison Moore, Julia Michaels, and of course, Ariana DeBose. We have all of these real woman that brought a lot of their own personality and voice into the character.”


(L-R) Peter Del Vecho, SVP, Feature Film Production, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Fawn Veerasunthorn, Jennifer Lee, CCO, Disney Animation Studios, Chris Buck and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster-Jones at the Disney 'Wish' press event at the El Capitan theater

Many recent Disney animated films haven’t had a true central villain in the classic sense. The Maribel and the Madrigal family had to overcome inner conflict. Raya certainly fought Namaari but ultimately the two made peace. And similar self-made obstacles and temporary antagonists, but not outright villains, can be found in everything from Ralph Breaks the Internet to Moana. But Wish is going old school when it comes to the conflict, making Magnifico a true villain, though one who starts out a bit differently.

As Peter Del Vecho put it, “Very early on, because we’re all fans of Disney, we wanted to see the return of a kind of a classic villain. So that was an idea that landed pretty early in the movie. And then casting Chris Pine, we realized that we could have that sort of charming, creative character that we could watch kind of devolve into a true villain.”

Lee said that once they knew they wanted to have a true Disney villain in Wish, it was “Daunting, but in the best way.” Reflecting on other recent films approaching their antagonistic force in a different manner, Lee remarked it wasn’t a mandate but simply where the story took various creators, remarking, “When I first came to Disney, a lot of filmmakers and folks didn’t want to just do the classic villain because that’s not often real life, you know? Yes, in Frozen we have villainous folks like Weselton and Hans, but Frozen‘s villain is actually fear. That was really fun to explore different kinds of antagonism.”

Lee said that as much as they enjoyed that, once they decided for Wish they had “this hunger to have that fun, classic villain we all wanted, we asked ‘How do you do it in a way that isn’t a copy of past villains and isn’t in a way that just feels like shallow or hollow? In today’s audiences, what are people looking for in a villain?’ To me, that’s the daunting part.”


King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) in Disney's 'Wish'

In one of the clips shown at the press event, an early encounter between Magnifico and Asha – who is seeking a job working for Magnifico at the time – has him confiding in her about the huge losses his family endured when he was young and how he wished he knew how to use magic back then to protect them.

As Lee explained, “The biggest thing we saw is people just really wanted not just the arch black and white kind of villain, but they wanted to know his wounds.” She added, with a chuckle, “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s so us now as a society.’ We want to get deep underneath and almost the therapy inside the psyche. And that was delicious. So [it was] the concept of really deconstructing, and going back to his childhood and understanding his choices and where’s the benevolent part of him?”

Said Del Vecho, “We wanted to create a character that was that was real enough that you would believe that people would come from all over and trust him to give their wishes. So we had to be charming, he had to be charismatic, and Chris Pine certainly can bring bring that element to it.”

Lee also observed that while Magnifico is self-named, which is certainly revealing a grandiose side, “He’s self-taught and he also he formed this kingdom himself. He wasn’t born into this. He had to be so charismatic. And we had to be able to believe his philosophies ourselves because he was able to woo people from all around the world. And that was something we had never done before too which was important to the story to really get across what he thought he was doing. That was a fun breakthrough in it.”

One other important thing the Wish team knew they had to include if they were going to have a true central villain? Reyes Lancaster Jones remarked “From the very beginning, we also knew that that we that we would have the return of the villain song, which I know we all love about them.” And indeed, we were shown Magnifico’s very fun big number, “This is the Thanks I Get,” in which he bemoans all he believes he’s done for the people of Rosas, only to now find himself facing opposition – while not realizing Asha is spying on him.

On top of all of that though, another important component Lee in this particular story was “Having a moment where the protagonist and villain philosophically align.”


Visual development art of Asha and Magnifico for Disney's 'Wish' by Griselda Sastrawinata

Lee said she really liked getting to show this dynamic between her hero and villain because “That’s a truth in the world. We can philosophically align, but when we’re tested, the choices we make off of those tests determine who we really are. And so to watch them align, and then the more they’re challenged, Asha and Magnifico go different ways. Once we were locked in on that, it just kept growing. Working with Chris Pine on it, to, he brought so much to it. Magnifico just became more and more fun as we unlocked him.”

Discussing what initially connects Asha and Magnifico, Buck observed “They both believe in the power of a wish and what it means to people and protecting a wish. They both have that same philosophy.”

In the footage we saw, Asha becomes concerned when she comes to believe that taking someone’s wish from them is actually removing a core part of who they are as a person, including their ability to strive to accomplish that wish on their own. Magnifico though argues that he is taking burdens away from people, protecting them from the pain of not being able to accomplish their goals.

As Buck noted, “As the beginning, they both believe in the same thing. And so you can see, which happens in life, someone takes a different road then what they could have.” Veerasunthorn said the story essentially functioned as Magnifico’s villainous origin story, with Buck noting that with many other Disney animated villains “they are fully formed villains when they step on the screen. This one, you get to see his sort of descent into madness.”

Wish opens November 22, 2023, only in theaters.

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