The 62nd film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Wish,” concerns a young girl named Asha (Ariana DeBose) who discovers a sinister secret at the heart of her seemingly idyllic Mediterranean kingdom. But it’s more than that, too — it’s the keystone (and grand finale) to Disney’s company-wide 100th anniversary, serving as a pseudo-prequel to every Disney animated fable that came before it and a celebration of the studio’s storied output.
To honor the past and push things forward, “Wish” adopted a brand-new animation aesthetic that combines the 3D animation of, say, “Frozen” with a watercolor style reminiscent of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (the movie’s biggest touchstone). It gives the film a beguiling, one-of-a-kind look, with dimensional characters moving around somewhat flat (in the best possible way) backgrounds.
Director Chris Buck, who directed “Tarzan”and the two “Frozen” films, admitted that, at least initially, it was hard to get across what “Wish” really was.
“I think a lot of people, when you mentioned the 100th anniversary film, even within the studio, they go, ‘Oh, is this just clips of all our films? Are we using all the characters?’” Buck said.
Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” codirector (her first job at Disney was storyboarding “Frozen”), said that the prospect of making the movie in this new style was daunting.
“We have done some experimentation with watercolor before in the past on short films,” Veerasunthorn said. “But this one, we want the storybook watercolor look that Walt was inspired to use for ‘Snow White’ and as a part of paying homage to the legacy, but we’re doing an all-new story, all new songs and it has to fit together. In the beginning, it was a little scarier not knowing what it would look and feel like.”
Buck likened the experience to jumping out of a plane and constructing your parachute on the way down.
“The goal was there. It all stemmed from: How do we celebrate our legacy and yet also celebrate the future? My dream would be that if people come out of this movie, they would say, ‘Wow, that feels like one of the classics, but it feels new,’” Buck said. “You get that feeling of both.” He added that it became a question of, “Can we embrace our legacy but also embrace the CG, so that it’s not just one or the other?”
“Wish” embraces the legacy of the past, too, by presenting a genuinely love-to-hate-him villain in King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), the sorcerer who agrees to grant the wishes of some loyal subjects but conceals the truth. He even gets a killer song, “This Is the Thanks I Get?!” While Disney hadn’t had a real villain in a while, Buck said that the company decided to give this one a shot.
“I think to a modern audience, you just don’t want to have a moustache-twirling guy,” Veerasunthorn said. “We want to know more about why. And that’s what we put a lot of work into. But then, the moment we found Chris Pine and he agreed to do this, this character just went way up.”
This story first appeared in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Awards Preview issue here.