During the press conference for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Wish, the filmmakers discuss inspirations, songs, villains, and the setting of the 100 year anniversary film.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ films are always meaningful, but this year’s is a little more special. 2023 is the 100 year anniversary of the studio, so this year’s release, titled Wish, celebrates the magic and hope of Disney movies. Many Disney characters look to the sky, to the stars, while they are longing for their truest desire to come true. That was part of the inspiration behind Wish.
During the long lead press day for the movie, Wish filmmakers discuss the inspirations behind the film, as well as casting Ariana DeBose as the lead. They also talk about the songs, of which there are seven, and why King Magnifico is a true villain.
- Jennifer Lee (Writer/Executive Producer & Animation Chief Creative Officer)
- Chris Buck (Director)
- Fawn Veerasunthorn (Director)
- Peter Del Vecho (Producer)
- Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones (Producer)
What Ariana DeBose Brings To Asha
When asked about what Ariana brings to the role of Asha, everyone immediately smiles and laughs. She has clearly made an impression on them.
“She’s very, very active within the booth. Sometimes maybe a little too much, because the sound engineer is like, ‘Ariana, can you move back on the mic a little bit?’,” Director Chris Buck says. “She’s acting it all out. And yes, we record all of it. The animators, all the way down to the mouth shapes, eye shapes, anything that she’s done. She’s so expressive and she’s so much fun to work with.”
Buck goes on to explain that Ariana gives them a lot of takes to choose from. He says that writers Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore do an incredible job with the script, but that they allow their actors to play. “She takes it and makes it her own. And I think what’s fascinating, too, is Jen is always done this. It’s so great about this is that she’ll listen to the first record, or watch it, and then she’ll go, oh, okay. So, that’s Ariana as Asha.”
Jennifer Lee adds, “What’s so great about Ariana, as you all know, she’s risen to great attention for her talent, her talent’s always been there, very quickly. There’s a vulnerability feel when you come in as a dreamer, and then you suddenly have all of this. And she navigates it beautifully.”
Ariana was so fantastic to be honest and open and warm, but also vulnerable about bring a young teen who is facing challenges. “We connect with the actor at a level that’s so true in their heart, and then it helps you hear. You hear how they would say it, what would matter to them. It’s always a critical part of our process,” Lee says.
Producer Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones reveals that Ariana came into the studio to talk to the animators. She sat with them. “The animators really reacted to that.”
Where & When Is Wish Set?
Where and when exactly is Wish set? Chris Buck explains that just as the Frozen films are inspired by Norway, Wish is inspired by the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. “We’re not saying it’s that actual area, but we do look to those regions for some of the coloring, what cultures would’ve been there. And this takes place between 1200 and 1300.”
Fawn Veerasunthorn adds, “For our story, we wanted to create Rosas as a destination, a place people go to. In the Mediterranean Sea, that’s kind of where all the cultures converged, historically. We worked with our culture consultant to make sure that this could happen.”
“There was cultures coming from all around the world at a certain time. And then knowing Magnifico built this kingdom not knowing if they’d come. And people came because they believed in his vision. And so, it gave us an opportunity to connect people from all around the world,” Jennifer Lee reveals.
Creating A True Villain With Magnifico
Some Disney fans might argue that it has been a while since there has been a true villain in one of their films. Jennifer Lee reveals that they talked about King Magnifico at lengths to ensure he is just that.
“We started with what do we think about for villains that we’d love to do, ’cause how do we be different from the previous films, but also a nod to them. And it really is about getting to watch that journey. So, we knew we wanted to start where you get to watch him make choices where you might meet the best of him, and then hopefully, survive the worst of him,” she details.
Lee goes on to say that song writer Julia Michaels was instrumental in this process, because This Is The Thanks I Get as an idea, which, hilariously, is a nod to what all moms put up with in the house. “We talked a lot about, for her, that she hooked on the idea of a narcissist. So, it comes really simply, down to character and the deliciousness and danger of that.”
Creating A Unique Look For Wish
All you have to do is take one look at the images from Wish and it is clear this is a look like we have not seen before. At least not in a feature. Chris Buck reminds everyone that technology they have been using for a while now, and then they incorporated a bit of the hand-drawn look into some of the Disney shorts like Feast and Paperman.
“You get a little bit of line around the character, but sometimes the characters are still animated in CG. But again, it’s starting to do what we’ve also been loving to do, and that is embracing our legacy, along with moving towards the future,” Buck explains. “It’s that hand-drawn look and computer. It is very hard to describe. I can barely describe it myself. I won’t even try, ’cause I’ll mess it up. But we have a lot of really amazing artists and technicians that push us.”
The animators were tasked by the directors to come up with a look that would embrace many things, including the legacy of Disney, and they were up to the challenge. “It happens every year, every movie. We keep pushing the boundaries a little bit more, and seeing the new things that we can do,” Buck admits.
Jennifer Lee says they develop their films with the most beautiful paintings by incredible artists. Then, when transferred to CG, there would be a shift. “In the past, when you would also do it in hand-drawn, there would be limitations. So, one of the goals has been not how do we keep making CG more real, ’cause people can do that. How do we actually get the artist’s vision from the beginning, from that first painting?”
Lee details that it is about fighting through the technology and getting some of the linework back in. “It’s tied to that watercolor,” she explains. “This achievement has meant a lot to us because it’s getting their vision, actually finally having technology and artistry meet in a way that they’re seeing eye to eye, instead of having to compromise. And I think it’s part of why it’s been so hard, because it’s not just about, oh, we can add this and add this. It’s about what’s the end result we want? And it’s that sense of art.”
Wish Easter Eggs & Film Nods
Of course, you can’t have a celebration of 100 years of Disney without including Easter Eggs. Chris Buck admits that there are so many nods to the legacy of Disney in Wish. “They are all over it. And some people are finding nods that we didn’t even intentionally put in. But they’re like, ‘Well, there’s that. There’s the wishing well.'”
Fawn Veerasunthorn laughs, saying that maybe subconsciously they were going there, something that Chris Buck agrees with.
“Disney’s so much in our DNA that I think it just comes out,” he says. “Every department would put little moments in there, or characters, or something in the background that will be nods to that legacy. When it come to the character, it’s just who we are. We grew up on Disney characters. And we try to do something original, but we also love what we grew up with. We love all those classic movies.”
Celebrate Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 100 year anniversary when Wish comes to theaters on November 22nd.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish” is an all-new musical-comedy welcoming audiences to the magical kingdom of Rosas, where Asha, a sharp-witted idealist, makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force – a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, Asha and Star confront a most formidable foe – the ruler of Rosas, King Magnifico – to save her community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.
Featuring the voices of Academy Award®-winning actor Ariana DeBose as Asha, Chris Pine as Magnifico, and Alan Tudyk as Asha’s favorite goat, Valentino, the film is helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (“Raya and the Last Dragon”), and produced by Peter Del Vecho (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones (“Encanto”). Jennifer Lee (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) executive produces—Lee and Allison Moore (“Night Sky,” “Manhunt”) are writers on the project.
Wish features original songs by Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/musician Benjamin Rice, plus score by composer Dave Metzger.
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Tessa Smith is a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved Film and TV Critic. She is also a Freelance Writer. Tessa has been in the Entertainment writing business for almost ten years and is a member of several Critics Associations including the Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, and the Greater Western New York Film Critics Association.