The next film from the Walt Disney Animation Studios seems to be timed just right. With the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company’s founding, filmmakers sought inspiration in the films from their past to look to the future.
Disney Animation’s chief creative officer and Oscar-winning co-director of “Frozen” Jennifer Lee immediately was inspired by what had been at the center of most of their films: wishes. “It was 2018 when I spoke to my ‘Frozen’ collaborator Chris Buck about that [wishes], and we were moved by what happens when our characters wish upon a star,” she said at the film’s early press preview day in Hollywood, Calif.
Lee shortly after that went to work writing what would eventually become “Wish,” the studio’s next original feature-length musical-comedy film. She brings her “Frozen” collaborators to help helm the project, with Chris Buck directing alongside newcomer and “Raya and the Last Dragon” story artist Fawn Veerasunthorn. “Frozen” producer Peter Del Vecho also returns in addition to longtime creative executive Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones also producing.
“Wish” tells the story of Asha, a sharp-witted idealist teenager who wishes for something so powerful that it’s answered by a cosmic force creating a ball of energy called Star. Together, they go up against a familiar foe who threatens to thwart them and use a similar power to cause chaos and forever change what positive impact wishes can do and stand for.
Said Chris Buck, “Asha’s story begins like most of our other heroines do, filled with hope and promise of something better. However, her story differs as she is the steward of others’ wishes and wants for them to come true as well. She is wishing for her community.”
That community in the film is the people of Rosas, a fictional kingdom inspired by a medieval metropolis located in the central Mediterranean. Creating the look and feel of that kingdom, its people, and basically the entirety of the film once again were the core challenges of the animators as Lee, Buck, and Veerasunthorn wanted to make this the most unique looking film the studio has ever made.
Peter Del Vecho shared that the creative leaders were inspired by the watercolor concept art created for its historic films like “Cinderella” and prolific artists who made them Eyvinde Earle. “Early on in the development process, we went into our Animation Research Library where we have these artifacts and couldn’t believe the amount of detail and realism came from one’s hand and simple watercolors,” he said.
With the help of the technical artists at the studio, they were able to create a watercolor look in a digital world that feels tactile and has its place and purpose. “In a way, we’re just honoring our history by doing it this way,” said Lee.
It’s in that same spirit that the film is also a musical, with all new original songs written by singer-songwriter Julia Michaels. Among the first songs she wrote for the film was the “showstopping number” called “This Wish,” which Asha, played by Ariana DeBose, performs with power and grace. Director Veerasunthorn said that Michaels was the perfect choice for many reasons, including her lyrical skills that only aid in conveying the feelings of our characters.
“She takes what we throw at her as it relates to the character and scene and simplifies them into a song that is complex and connecting altogether,” she said. Added producer Lancaster Jones, “Julia was a student of our films as she was growing up, so it came pretty naturally to her.”
Honoring the Disney Animation legacy is what the creative team hopes “Wish” is perhaps more than anything. Lee added, “The entire Disney company began when Walt signed a contract to create animated pictures back in 1923, so I hope that this film and everything that is in it is something he would be proud of. Added Buck, “I also hope that this film helps guide us forward as well. I can only wish that the next 100 years of Disney Animation would be just as magical.”
Disney’s “Wish” is set to debut exclusively in theaters on November 22, 2023.
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