Disney’s Wish Includes a Villain Origin Story and a Scene Stealing Silent Star

Eric Goldman
Movies Disney
Movies Disney

Wish, the 62nd feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, arrives in theaters as a central part of the entire Disney company celebrating their 100th anniversary this year – which is especially notable for Wish, given animation is what everything was built upon in the first place by?Walt Disney.

Having become very busy, to say the least, in recent years as the Animation Chief Creative Officer,?Jennifer Lee returns to a more direct role as a screenwriter with Wish (written by Lee and Allison Moore), once more collaborating with her fellow Frozen and Frozen II director, Chris Buck, who directs Wish alongside Fawn Veerasunthorn.

The film follows Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose), who lives in a kingdom, Rosas, where King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) uses magic to collect and protect his people’s greatest wishes – with a chosen few having their wishes granted periodically. But trouble arises when Asha begins to realize the more tragic side of what is occurring here, as people forget what their wish even was when they give it to Magnifico, and are unable to pursue it. Her own ensuing wish upon a star causes some huge upheaval for the kingdom, and for Magnifico to begin taking an increasingly dark path.

I spoke to Lee, Buck, Veerasunthorn and Wish producers Peter Del Vecho and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones about how the films honors Disney’s animation history, their more multidimensional villain, and the actual depiction of a wishing star and how it became a standout character.

100 Years and Counting

Valentino (Alan Tudyk) and Asha (Ariana DeBose) in Wish

As Jennifer Lee recalled, in her earliest conversations with Chris Buck about Wish, “We were still working on Frozen [II]. It was like we were moonlighting on this a little bit.” Quickly, for the 100th anniversary film, they knew they wanted to do a classic musical fairy tale, but one not based on anything, instead making it an original story. Said Lee, “Chris and I always love, as we work together, to take tropes and celebrate them, but also flip them a little bit, respectfully. And that was another thing too. This wouldn’t [be] parody. It would be genuine and sincere, but also have some fun – don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Buck explained that as they discussed wanting to honor the 100 years of animation history, “We took a frame from each [Walt Disney Animation Studios] movie, just one frame, and pinned it up on on a bulletin board. We were able to see all the breadth of styles and everything, but also the common thread of so many characters wishing on stars. So we just knew that it had to be about wishing on stars and called Wish.”

Fawn Veerasunthorn said they realized, “The core thing that’s in all the Disney movies’ DNA is the power of a person’s wish. A lot of characters have such determination to go after what they want. And in this film, we wanted to explore what happened when someone wished upon a star and an actual star falls down on earth.”

MAGNIFICO: YEAR ONE

King Magnifico (Chris Pine) in Wish

Because they wanted to harken back to classic Disney, they knew they wanted a classic style villain, but Magnifico ultimately stands out in a lot of ways – including the fact that he doesn’t begin the film as a villain and in fact is someone Asha looks up to and initially feels a connection to.

Lee said this was a reflection of wanting to pay homage to past Disney villains and not reinvent the wheel, yet still depicting an evolution in storytelling, noting in the past we’ve met a lot of villains who showed up already set in their ways and then asking “We have those, but what more can we do? How can we take that trope and, and do something more?”

Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones said Wish innately begged for more to Magnifico, because rather than operating as someone on the fringe or a ruler everyone hates, “Organically, because of the story, he had to be this multi-dimensional character that was very charismatic, because you’re giving him your wish. So you needed to trust in him. But also seeing him descend into showing his true colors, I think it’s very exciting. It’s kind of an origin story for a villain in many ways.”

Expanding even more upon his history and the events that shaped him expanded throughout the filmmaking process, with Peter Del Vecho noting, “A lot of his backstory, that was something that happened actually in an early screening… He made such a compelling character, everyone wanted to know more about how he got that way.”

Buck elaborated how Magnifico, in early versions of the film, “Was more evil at the very beginning. And we started to craft a little bit differently. We made him more charming at the very beginning, so you believe what he’s saying. And you also believe that all these people in his kingdom would believe him when he says ‘I’m going to grant your wish!’ But then we get to see sort of the evolution or de-evolution of this character, his descent into madness, which we really, really loved and it’s different.”

Lee said the character also began to expand thanks to the man who voiced him, Chris Pine, and them discussing that Magnifico “Really believes in his philosophy. So to believe in it, I was like, ‘What caused it? Where did he start?’ And then once we were discovering that, we found we loved having that as a part of the story. We made a decision later in the process to open the film on his face and to start with the best of him and the truth of him.”

Magnifico has a wife, Queen Amaya (Angelique Cabral), who also has to process a lot in the film and Lee added, “You watch these three characters — Asha, Magnifico and the Queen — all aligned in the same place philosophically at the beginning of the film and you watch, when challenged, the different choices they each make and that was so much fun.”

Said Veerasunthorn, “Once Asha discovers the actual truth of what Magnifico’s plan is out,? we leave the question on the table, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ Are you going to have the courage to go against this powerful king?

STAR’S A STAR!

Star, as seen in Wish

Wish has a wonderful scene stealer in the form of Star, the aforementioned wishing star that falls to earth. Star is a very funny, very engaging character who happens to not speak, though that wasn’t always going to be the case.

Recalled Lee, of earlier versions of the film, “I had so much fun writing Star as Star would speak.” However, Lee began to realize Star was able to do and explain so much, it was taking away from Asha, explaining “The character was so funny and yet it’s really hard, because how does Star not have the answers? How does Asha have to drive the story? And then I went, wait a minute, hope, possibility. wonder… those don’t do the work for you. But when they’re there for you, it helps you do your own work.”

Ultimately, Lee explained “Star represents the helpers of the world. They are there but they can’t do the work for you. And then that’s when Star just became so much fun too and the playfulness of Star’s spirit…. To become a real character in a way that wasn’t based on what they could say specifically, but based on how they made you feel.”

Said Del Vecho “I think it’s important for your protagonist to make the decisions and to drive the movie. And by Star being there to help and inspire, we process everything through Asha’s eyes, but we get the hope and dreams and boundless energy from Star.”

Buck said Star “really goes back to just the strength of animation and early animation, the pantomime. It’s so fun to watch. And the audience is part of it. Because they’re trying to figure out, along with our main characters, what is this character trying to say?!”

Reyes Lancaster Jones noted some of Star’s playful behavior is modeled after baby pandas – “Jen Lee was watching baby panda videos nonstop throughout” – with Del Vecho remarking “It’s amazing how much the animators brought to a character who doesn’t speak and yet you get his personality, you get his expressions, you know what he’s thinking.”

Veerasunthorn recalled there was some initial wariness of the shift of Star to a silent character, only for it to be very quickly embraced, with everyone agreeing “That can be fun. We can dive in and everyone comes together and helps shape this character. Because to us, Star is this cosmic force that represents hope and imagination and that part that inspires you to be activated, to follow your dream. And a lot of time, those feelings, it doesn’t come to you fully fleshed [out], you just kind of felt it in your heart. You cannot talk. If you talk and you’re too clear about it, it doesn’t really represent this character.”

Said Buck, “I think it really engages the audience in Star. Our animators are some of the best in the world and they just had a ball and they can really capture those nuances for a silent character.”

Wish opens in theaters on November 22.


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.
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