Move over Disney royals, it’s time for some of us to shine. WISH is the latest feature length picture from Walt Disney Animation Studios and although it may be set in an enchanted kingdom full of magic, the lead character, Asha, is no princess. Her story brings a message of self discovery and a realization about what it really means to wish upon a star. The secret? It’s you.
Sure, counting on yourself isn’t really a new story beat amongst Disney characters; Belle bargained her father’s freedom for her own and carved her own path, Tiana let hard work and determination lead her on the path to fulfilling her goals, the list goes on. So what is so special about Asha? She lives in a world where making wishes is the accepted norm for achieving big dreams, a message not unlike our own reality where Disney’s own PINOCCHIO warmly instills that “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” But Asha quickly realizes hoping and dreaming isn’t always going to work. Making a wish come true actuallly takes work.
“The message of this movie made me cry — it really did “
As I came to the realization of the heart of the story, it caught me by surprise and the message of this movie made me cry — it really did. It wasn’t while I was watching the film but actually later while listening to the infectious song “I’m a Star.” The upbeat tune, written by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice, is one of my favorites from the soundtrack and delivers a lot more than just a surface level moral and a boppy fun beat. In the film, the song is brought to life by a collection of enchanted animals in the forest and a pair of mice sing the lyrics “we eat the leaves and they eat the sun.” It’s such a simple, almost throw-away, line on first glance and then I realized how much it reminded me of the message from a different movie.
In THE LION KING, we learn the concept of the great circle of life (you’ll recall Simba’s question, “But dad, don’t we eat the antelope? ” to which Mufasa responds, “Yes, Simba, [but] when we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass.) It establishes that every living thing on this planet is connected in a symbiotic circle of life. WISH then adds onto this, by looping the sun in as part of this great circle and, by extension, all the stars in the sky. And then it was waterworks. Ok, maybe just my eyes welled up a little.
“Keep wishing on the stars but also know that you ARE a star. Wish on yourself. Count on yourself. Be the star and make those dreams come true.”
We’ve long been taught to hope and dream on that wishing star and that story beat is still completely valid in the world of WISH but it goes a step further establishing that we’re all connected together as stars in this universe. So, by all means, keep wishing on the stars but also know that you ARE a star. Wish on yourself. Count on yourself. Be the star and make those dreams come true.
At face value, it’s easy to lump this message with the same arguments about the problems that arise when everyone gets a participation trophy. Similarly, Disney often gets critiqued that the idea of “everyone is a princess” creates a world full of entitled brats. You can even find Disney reference to this same concept with Buddy/Syndrome in the INCREDIBLES, (“If everyone is special, no one is.”). But this is not the message in WISH. Making your dreams come true is dependent on YOU and your efforts to make that wish happen. You don’t deserve a wish because you’re special, you’re special because you can manifest your wish.
“You don’t deserve a wish because you’re special, you’re special because you can manifest your own wish”
But what the film further layers in here is that even if we’re all stars, you’re not alone in making a wish come true. The message is hardly novel but following a very isolating pandemic plus an incredibly polarizing time in our world history, it’s easy to feel alone and without hope. So the evergreen moral from WISH remains a timeless one as they sing in the finale, “We can take it on if we [all] align. So I make this wish to have something more for us than this.”
I had the chance to share my revelation with some of the filmmakers at a press conference and Michaels communicated the challenge with the song of finding a way to carry the film’s theme and ultimately realizing “we’re all so deeply connected, even in times when you don’t feel like you are.”
WISH is a perfect modern fairytale and it’s fitting that in this analysis of this story that it reminded me of so many other films that are part of the Disney legacy. The film was intentionally designed to be an homage to the Disney 100th Anniversary and from its visuals to its heartwarming story, it’s appropriate that the take away here is clear. You’re a star.
See it for Yourself
WISH makes dreams come true in theaters in November 22, 2023.