“Napoleon” stars Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim, Ben Miles, and Rupert Everett. Released on November 22, 2023, the film chronicles Napoleon Bonaparte and his rise to power.
The film was directed by Ridley Scott, who also directed films such as “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” “American Gangster,” “The Last Duel,” and “House of Gucci.” Many figures throughout history seek to rule a country for several reasons. Some do it to help their people live better lives, while others do it for power, greed, and themselves. For the latter, none of these rulers were more ruthless and determined to conquer the lands than the French leader himself, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon may be well-known for being one of the greatest military commanders in history, but he’s also not without his controversial choices that made him a tyrant. What better way to explore this side of Bonaparte than through the eyes of Ridley Scott, who’s no stranger to providing epic historical dramas? Nothing wrong with gaining some historical knowledge during the holidays, if I do say so myself. So, does it offer a thrilling depiction of one of France’s infamous rulers, or does it deserve to be shamed along with the titular commander? Let’s find out.
The movie follows the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (Phoenix), an army officer seeking to conquer France. Amid his battles, Napoleon goes through many accomplishments outside the battlefield, including marrying Joséphine de Beauharnais (Kirby), an aristocratic widow, and being crowned Emperor of the French. As his quest for power develops throughout the years, Napoleon faces complicated challenges that could damper his chances at success, including his toxic relationship with Joséphine.
Considering my appreciation for some of Ridley Scott’s works, I was surprised that I was one of several people late to Bonaparte’s bloody party. Obviously, it was due to me getting ready for the holidays, and I was a bit swamped with other movies that caught my attention. It’s a small price to pay for being a responsible adult with a career in reviewing films. Fortunately, I was able to make time to check out Scott’s latest historical drama before we head into the final busy weeks of 2023. This film was on my watch list because of Ridley Scott, despite his recent works being hit-and-miss, and even Joaquin Phoenix, who’s hoping to join the awards race again this year following his Oscar win for “Joker”. These two people seemed like a promising combination to properly envision the French officer’s rise to power in cinematic form. Unfortunately, even with its star power, the film struggles to deliver a historical lesson as ruthless and powerful as its titular figure.
The narrative in “Napoleon” consists of a series of events depicting Bonaparte’s obsession with power through his battles and relationship with Joséphine. His desire resulted in Napoleon realizing he’s gone over his head. If you’ve read about his history at school or college, you’d know exactly how his reign ended, and you’d probably like the film for bringing these historical events to life on the big screen. However, if you’re hoping for an accurate depiction of Napoleon’s rise and downfall, you might be disappointed with the final result. It plays off like the other biopics of years past, in which they took inspiration from their real-life events to craft traditional Hollywoodized stories instead of depicting them accurately. I was aware of this before watching the film, but I shrugged it off because I knew it had happened many times before. Understandably, its inaccuracies harm the film’s chances of exceeding its traditional biopic standards and impressing the French. However, what matters most is the story’s execution and whether it’s engaging enough to match its immersive scale.
After experiencing the movie, I can finally say that it’s as epic as I anticipated, but its middling screenplay struggles to reach that same height as its grimly gorgeous presentation. This is writer David Scarpa’s second collaboration with Ridley Scott, following 2017’s “All the Money in the World”, which I thought was superb. Scarpa’s script for “Napoleon” has some promising moments that could’ve made for another fantastic character study of a person’s desire to rule, along with a few unexpected chuckles. Sadly, those moments lack the proper oomph in its narrative and dialogue to keep its army alive in enemy territory. It’s not boring, as it relies on its cast and technical aspects to keep me awake. It’s that the story lacks the emotional impact of its dialogue-driven sequences and themes to make the film as attention-grabbing as Napoleon’s victorious battles. It also doesn’t help that it’s plagued by its uneven pacing. Even with the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime, it felt like it left out something important for its character growth and made specific scenes drag out a bit too long for me. It definitely has several sequences that could work well in its favor, but they surprisingly don’t click for me. Let’s hope Scarpa can redeem himself with his screenplay for Scott’s “Gladiator” sequel.
Thankfully, Ridley Scott still hasn’t lost his touch in envisioning world history on an epic and gratifying scale. What “Napoleon” lacks in character and powerful storytelling easily compensates with its presentation and Scott’s direction. In case you aren’t familiar with his works, Scott has a profound way of bringing even the most devastating parts of history to life. He even doesn’t shy away from showcasing the grotesque realism of historical violence and sex. It’s one of the reasons why I adored “The Last Duel”. “Napoleon” is unsurprisingly no different, with his visionary skills portraying its brilliant battle sequences and the blood they left behind. These scenes make the reenactments from actors in a historical-based park look like elementary school plays. The Battle of Austerlitz is my best example of how superb the film’s action scenes were. Regarding Dariusz Wolski’s stellar cinematography and the editing by Claire Simpson and Sam Restivo, that scene perfectly portrays the unsettling horror of Napoleon’s clever mind, especially when his enemies drown in the frozen lakes. I will also credit the film for its immersive set designs and costumes, as they’re some of the things that are more accurate than its depiction.
Along with the technical aspects envisioned by Scott, the film also compensates for its shortcomings with its cast. While I wouldn’t call some of their performances Oscar-worthy, the actors still provide enough gravitas in their characters to help them have a fighting chance. Joaquin Phoenix was suitably captivating as the infamous army officer seeking power, which is enough to bypass some of his sluggish scenes. It’s not the best performance I’ve seen from the award-winning actor, but what he brought to the subtly demanding and heartless character convinced me to look forward to his future projects. Vanessa Kirby also did a solid job with her performance as Joséphine, Napoleon’s wife who’s as internally complex as her fiancee. Tahar Rahim and Rupert Everett were also decent as Paul Barras and Arthur Wellesley, respectively.
Overall, “Napoleon” doesn’t rank as high in Hollywood’s list of historical epics as I anticipated, but the grandness in its presentation helped it survive most of its onslaught. It’s not without a few moments relying on Ridley Scott’s filmmaking strengths, and Phoenix continues to prove himself as an actor worth watching regarding his performance. Unfortunately, they’re not enough to truly honor the accomplishments set by the power-hungry ruler due to its middling script, historical inaccuracies, and uneven pacing. It’s not the worst film I’ve seen from Ridley Scott, but I wouldn’t call it historic like some of his other classics. It’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the people involved. But if you don’t like lengthy historical dramas, you might want to wait for the film to arrive on Apple TV+.
“Silent Night” stars Joel Kinnaman, Scott Mescudi, Harold Torres, and Catalina Sandino Moreno. Released on December 1, 2023, the film has a father avenging his young son’s death on Christmas Eve.
The film was directed by John Woo, who also directed films such as “The Dragon Tamers”, “A Better Tomorrow”, “Face/Off”, and “Paycheck”. Celebrating the holidays means spending time with the family peacefully without worrying about the stupidity and chaos spreading across the country. Unfortunately, the people who spoil the festivities for everyone don’t get the memo. If getting a lump of coal or getting mauled by Santa Claus isn’t enough to punish the holiday-ruining grinches this season, Hollywood has come up with something else that can: a father whose actions literally speak louder than words. The first weekend of the Christmas season is spreading holiday joy for us adults as we got another R-rated Christmas film that's hoping to become the next holiday movie tradition for teens and grownups. This latest action thriller sees the return of John Woo, who’s been absent from the American film business for two decades. He’s still active in directing movies during that time, but only for his home country. Now, he’s returned to the United States to give us an early Christmas gift that would leave his fans speechless. Let’s jump into the action and see if it proves that silence is golden.
The story follows Brian Godluck (Kinnaman), a loving family man and electrician living with his wife, Saya (Moreno), and their young son in California. Unfortunately, their lives suddenly changed when a horrid act of violence between two gangs occurred right by their house. As a result, Brian’s son was tragically killed in the crossfire, and his injury left him without a voice. With vengeance his top priority, a heartbroken Brian attempts to avenge his son on Christmas Eve by getting even with the gang, including the leader Playa (Torres), while being tailed by Detective Dennis Vassel (Mescudi).
I’m not exactly a massive follower of John Woo’s works. In fact, the only movie from him I’ve ever watched in my life was “Mission: Impossible 2”. That movie didn’t get as much love as the other installments, but I thought it was a decent installment in the recently popular spy series. It’s not as groundbreaking as its recent sequels, but it’s entertaining regardless. All I knew from that film was that Woo is another filmmaker who brings pizazz in his stylized presentation, slow-motion shots, and action scenes. So this makes “Silent Night” the second movie from Woo I’ve watched. Was it my right choice to experience the director’s signature style again? Well, yes and no. It isn’t without a few admirable moments to maintain my interest in its concept, but it’s far from a perfect gift that keeps on giving.
The main draw of “Silent Night” isn’t just the set pieces and John Woo’s direction. It’s the “silent” part. This is another movie that doesn’t feature any dialogue from the characters. There were a few instances that had ambient noise and background chatter, but aside from that, the movie allows the characters to speak with their actions instead of their words. It’s another case of telling a story through visuals, music, and the character’s actions, which I always find fascinating. In this case, “Silent Night” depicts a tale of revenge and grief, in which Brian struggles with the loss of his son, who’s seen as the light in his soul. When his son is taken away by gang violence, it signifies the light fading away from Brian’s body, leaving him broken and obsessed with revenge. It’s what you’d expect from a revenge thriller involving an ordinary person taking extreme measures, which doesn’t surprise me at all, considering how popular the genre is. It may not have done anything with its formulaic script to make it stand out from the rest. However, the efforts to provide an emotional connection for its characters amid the action were surprisingly solid.
Woo may be known for providing style in the action sequences, but his approach to drama is something that I would also admire, even though it’s far from outstanding. Through his stylized transitions, close-up maneuvers, and slow-motion shots, Woo displayed the dialogue-free drama as a ballet. The scenes involving the characters communicating through their actions and facial expressions are graceful without missing a single step. Again, it’s not groundbreaking or anything, but the effort was there, which is enough to forgive its pacing in the first act. But what about the action scenes, you ask? Well, I can admit that I was mildly impressed with how they looked. They’re stylistically diverting and brutally entertaining due to Woo’s direction and editing. Were they enough to leave an everlasting impact? Surprisingly, no. The action lost plenty of steam in the second half, and some of the movie’s CGI effects were pretty ugly. Thankfully, they didn’t detract from the film’s attention-grabbing style completely.
With the film having no dialogue, the cast had to provide physical performances to compensate for the lack of speech. “Silent Night” is one of the films showcasing that the art of acting doesn’t just come from speech delivery. It also comes from the actions and expressions told through the actors’ faces and body movements. If they provide something captivating with those physical expressions without speaking a single word, that means they succeed in making me care for the silent characters. Fortunately, that’s what the cast in “Silent Night” accomplished, mainly Joel Kinnaman. Kinnaman was mesmerizing as a father without a voice, showcasing the physical pain and trauma he endured with sheer intensity and dread. Scott Mescudi and Catalina Sandino Moreno were also impressive in their performances as Detective Dennis Vassel and Saya, respectively. Besides that, the movie is basically the Joel Kinnaman show, and it is a compelling watch despite the execution being hit-and-miss.
Overall, “Silent Night” basks in the glory of adult-rated violence and dialogue-free scenarios, but it offers little to nothing else in its holiday-themed killing spree besides those elements. Regarding the action scenes, John Woo still proves himself capable of delivering slick, entertaining, and stylistic presentations, which should satisfy many, if not all, of the director’s fans. Additionally, Joel Kinnaman is still a talented actor whose physical performance helped drive some of the film’s emotional beats. Unfortunately, they’re not enough to overcome its familiar narrative, which lost its creative steam halfway through. Along with a couple of pacing issues and rough CGI effects, the film is a welcoming return to Hollywood for John Woo that falls short of being more than what is offered. Regardless, I enjoyed watching it, and I think action fans would feel the same way about Woo’s early holiday gift.
“Dream Scenario” stars Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula, and Dylan Baker. Released on November 10, 2023, the film has a biology professor discovering he’s been appearing in people’s dreams.
The film was written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli, known for directing “DRIB” and “Sick of Myself”. Dreams are gateways to one’s wildest imaginations. Most of them lead people to create inspiring and creative ideas, while others are so bizarre and unpredictable that they wonder what the heck is going on in their brains while they sleep. However, none of those dreams is as weird as sharing the same one involving the one stranger as everyone else. If that stranger happens to be Nicolas Cage, you should consider yourself lucky. I know that I’m supposed to get into the holiday season at this point, but A24 was like, “Hey! We got a new original movie out this weekend. Please watch it.” Considering my immense appreciation for the studio, more so now than the other greedy modern distributors, how could I say no to that request? Plus, it’s got Nicolas Cage invading people’s minds, which is enough to grab my attention. The question now is whether this bizarre idea makes its dream of maintaining A24’s winning streak a reality. Let’s find out.
The story follows Paul Matthews (Cage), a mild-mannered professor living with his wife Janet (Nicholson) and their daughters Hannah (Jessica Clement) and Sophie (Lily Bird). One day, he comes across his ex-girlfriend Claire (Marnie McPhail), a journalist who tells him he’s constantly appearing in her dreams. After agreeing to let Claire write about her occurrences, Paul discovers that hundreds of people have been dreaming about him, although he appears as a passive and emotionless bystander. As Paul revels in the strange, newfound success, he encounters many setbacks that could alter his life as a dream celebrity.
This is one of the few movies I watched without knowing much about them. I didn’t see the trailers or any television commercials for this movie. I just looked at the film’s synopsis and first-look photos, and that’s about it. Those two things immediately got me interested in “Dream Scenario”, showing that a small amount of marketing can make a difference in people’s interest. Of course, as I mentioned before, I’m a respectable fan of Nicolas Cage, especially for his recent works. So seeing him in something as surreal as his unhinged performances in the 2000s was enough to convince me to watch it as soon as I saw it playing at my closest cinema. Unsurprisingly, it’s as bizarre as the plot suggests, which is uncommon by A24’s creative quality standards. However, what makes it truly stand out is what it’s trying to say about society as a whole, resulting in a metaphoric and amusingly weird experience worthy of the talents of its director and star.
The thing to know about “Dream Scenario” is its tone. It’s marketed as a black comedy with fantasy elements, mainly from Nicolas Cage unintentionally invading people’s dreams. This would’ve come out as a harmless and bizarrely funny comedy, with Cage being completely nuts every few minutes. However, it turns out to be more than just a showcase of Cage doing what he does best. As this strange movie heads into its second half, it gradually heads into darker and even horrific territory regarding its themes, which is equivalent to going from a dream to an unsettling nightmare. Through his screenplay and direction, Borgli used this seemingly harmless concept to portray a convincing and depressing metaphor of fame and cancel culture in today’s society. We see Paul attempting to use his newfound popularity to make himself known, only for that fame to unexpectedly flip itself over, resulting in him being shunned by society.
Its tone can be misleading and even alienating for some viewers. Fortunately, “Dream Scenario” took advantage of this opportunity to deliver a bold and often provocative reflection on the pros and cons of fame that’s entertaining and thought-provoking. Borgli’s screenplay effectively resembles its themes and characters in an honest and distressing manner. Although, it can be a bit confusing as to how this unexplainable phenomenon works. On the other hand, it fits A24’s logic of the unknown being frightening, which this film did well in checking out that box. I will also credit Borgli for his direction and style. With dreams being the film’s concept, it’s hard not to admire his attempt to resemble the aesthetics of people’s random dreams. The dream sequences have a grainy cinematic look resembling a 70s exploitation movie, creating an outlook of visual hallucinations that are both surreal and unsettling. It’s hard not to look away from these sequences, meaning that Borgli, the editor, and the cinematographer have accomplished their goal.
The only flaw I have that dragged the film down a bit is its humor. As mentioned earlier, the movie is marketed as a black comedy, even though it’s more dramatic and dark than fun and endearing. It has a few humorous moments involving the dreams Paul’s students share and Cage that make me chuckle with delight and confusion. However, it also has some bits of comedy that don’t work as well as those that do. It’s not enough to detract from my experience, thankfully, not just because of its well-told story but also because of its cast. Nicolas Cage is undoubtedly terrific as Paul, further showcasing his magnetic charm and proving himself to be a compelling dramatic actor. Julianne Nicholson was also stellar as Janet, and Michael Cera was surprisingly impressive as Trent. It’s nice to see Cera getting more attention recently, especially since I mainly know him from “Superbad” and “Scott Pilgrim”.
Overall, “Dream Scenario” is as bizarre and attractively alienating as one would expect from their own dreams, creating a well-portrayed character study of the price of celebratory fame. Its misleading tone and hit-and-miss humor put a damper on its dream of being a perfect movie, but its intentions are strong enough to fulfill my expectations of A24’s storytelling quality and presentation. The film is a distressing and often amusing reflection that uses its bizarre plot to provide a unique voice resembling today’s society. It showcases Borgli as another talented filmmaker worth watching regarding his direction and screenplay. Additionally, Nicolas Cage never fails to impress me with his attention-grabbing roles, with his performance in “Dream Scenario” being one of them. If it’s showing at a theater near you, and you’re a fan of Nicolas Cage, it’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect this dream to be as overly pleasant as your erotic ones.
“Godzilla Minus One” stars Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Sakura Ando, and Kuranosuke Sasaki. Released in Japan on November 3, 2023, followed by a U.S. release on December 1, 2023, the film has the citizens of postwar Japan encountering the emergence of Godzilla.
The film was written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, who also directed films such as “Juvenile,” “Always: Sunset on Third Street,” “The Eternal Zero,” and “The Great War of Archimedes.” It is the 37th film in the Godzilla franchise. With the holidays approaching, it would’ve been fitting for me to sit by the fire, drink some hot chocolate, and watch many Christmas-themed movies and specials. But that’s not the case, at least for this year. Instead, I’m celebrating the Christmas season with the iconic atomic-breathing lizard known for destroying countless buildings and delightfully terrorizing civilians and movie audiences. While Godzilla has had its recent success in America thanks to the 2014 reboot and the MonsterVerse, that didn’t mean Japan wouldn’t continue making its own films featuring the famous kaiju. Enter the franchise’s “Reiwa” era, which has the series reverting to Godzilla just destroying stuff, starting with 2016’s “Shin Godzilla”. Since we’re not getting another Americanized Godzilla film until next year, and this latest Reiwa installment is showing at my closest cinema, I decided to take the opportunity to experience a Japanese-dub Godzilla movie on the big screen for the first time. What a way to celebrate the franchise’s 70th anniversary. Does it live up to the expectations as massive as the titular character, or does it deserve a score lower than a minus one? Let’s find out.
The story takes place in post-World War II Japan. It follows Kōichi Shikishima (Kamiki), a former kamikaze pilot plagued by survivor’s guilt following his close encounter with a massive creature called Godzilla. Kōichi has started a relationship with Noriko Ōishi (Hamabe), and they’ve adopted a child named Akiko (Sae Nagatani), whose parents were killed during the war. Kōichi’s new life was suddenly altered by the reappearance of Godzilla, who’s mutated by the United States’ nuclear tests. As the monster seeks to destroy Japan, Kōichi and the other private citizens join forces to protect their country from a fate worse than the war they fought.
When it comes to the Godzilla franchise, I only know it through the Hollywood iterations of the titular creature, especially the MonsterVerse installments. Yes, that also includes the infamous 1998 film from Roland Emmerich. Sorry, not sorry. However, I recently came around and watched one of the Godzilla films from Toho, “Godzilla: Final Wars”. I even watched the previous films in the Reiwa era, including the 2016 reboot “Shin Godzilla,” which I thought was good despite being a bit long and periodically goofy. So, while my experience with Toho’s Godzilla is more diminutive than America’s take on the creature, my knowledge overall is enough to experience another round of kaiju chaos early. That’s right, I managed to be one of the lucky folks to see “Godzilla Minus One” early before it hits American theaters this weekend, and guess what? I’m pleased that I took that chance.
Many of the Godzilla movies have been known for relying on the spectacle of Godzilla destroying cities, people, and other kaiju over a human-focused narrative. They’re not without their crowd-pleasing moments that’ll satisfy plenty of fans. However, those can only take them so far if they don’t have characters worth caring about amid the destruction, at least for general moviegoers. “Godzilla Minus One” did the impossible by being the exception to that 70-year-old tradition. On paper, it had the makings of a classic Godzilla movie with the titular kaiju laying waste to Tokyo. However, it’s also accompanied by the human soul that surprisingly works well with the monster-sized action, more so than the MonsterVerse Godzilla movies. It satisfies as an engaging back-to-basics monster movie and a well-acted and grounded war drama whose real-life themes and likable characters drive the narrative to sentimental heights.
Of course, this also means this is another movie where the main focus is on the human characters, with Godzilla appearing in fewer scenes than the war veterans. For people who want to see Godzilla wreck stuff for two hours straight, it can be concerning to wait through the “boring” conversations to get back to the action. Fortunately, “Minus One” was able to make the human characters just as entertaining, tense, and emotional as the Godzilla sequences. One of those reasons is its themes. Amid the kaiju chaos, the film explores Kōichi’s inner conflict caused by PTSD and survivor’s guilt and the post-war effects on humanity, particularly in Japan. We see Kōichi struggling to face his phobia of Godzilla while attempting to find his inner courage to live his life. It reflects the human spirit shining through the tragedy and sorrow caused by war, anxiety, and violence, especially when they’re caused by a giant dinosaur-like creature. It can be a bit melodramatic at times, and the ending left me feeling a bit conflicted compared to the rest of the movie. However, “Minus One” effectively balanced the melodrama with realism to prevent it from being an uneven cheese-fest.
Takashi Yamazaki is no stranger to historical war dramas, as he’s done “The Eternal Zero” and “The Great War of Archimedes” beforehand. However, I’m surprised to discover that the filmmaker also has experience with Godzilla, as he previously used the monster for 2007’s “Always: Sunset on Third Street 2” and “Godzilla: The Ride” at Seibu-en Amusement Park. Based on that interesting information, I assumed they had the right person for the job. After watching the film, I will gladly say my assumption was correct. Yamazaki did an impressive job honoring the brutal and menacing persona of Godzilla while also ensuring that the story and characters come first, mainly from his well-written screenplay. Yamazaki’s vision for the production designs and grim tone is a remarkable sight to behold, and the cinematography by Kōzō Shibasaki was sublime in capturing the incredible scope of the action, destruction, and even the human drama. These elements are why the film is worth seeing on the biggest screen possible, along with its sound mixing.
The cast also did wonders in making the characters worth caring about through their performances. Ryunosuke Kamiki did a superb job resembling Kōichi as an internally broken man who blames himself for his cowardliness. Some of his emotional range can be a bit much, but Kamiki had a good amount of restraint in his portrayal that doesn’t stray into B-movie territory. Minami Hamabe was also effective as Noriko, Kōichi’s partner who helps him ease his pain and raise their adopted child. I will also credit the supporting actors playing the members of the minesweeper crew for delivering a solid mixture of humor and drama, including Hidetaka Yoshioka as Kenji Noda and Kuranosuke Sasaki as Yōji Akitsu, the crew’s captain.
Finally, we have the film’s visual effects, which blew my mind from beginning to end. There’s no other way to describe how incredibly awe-inspiring the visuals looked. They’re just that amazing to witness, especially the design for Godzilla, which I admit looks badass and terrifying. What makes them even more impressive is that the film costs $15 million, excluding the marketing. The fact that a monster movie from Japan with a smaller budget looks better than the recent Hollywood blockbusters that cost millions of dollars to make is both amusing and embarrassing to me, mostly the former. It seems that Hollywood is still struggling to improve its quality since the pandemic.
Overall, “Godzilla Minus One” is a satisfyingly massive feat in the 70-year-old kaiju franchise that combines classic monster action with a compelling and thoughtful human soul. Despite a couple of tiny issues with the story, including the ending, the film is a refreshing and highly engaging experience that honors the Godzilla lore and balances the blockbuster spectacle with heart. Something that many other blockbusters from Hollywood have struggled to capture recently. Thanks to its attention-grabbing cast, Yamazaki’s brilliant approach via his direction and script, and the incredible visuals, “Minus One” is the best Godzilla movie I’ve seen. With Warner Brothers and Disney concluding their anniversaries with little to no fanfare, it’s nice to see the iconic kaiju avoiding a similar fate by delivering the near-perfect movie to celebrate its milestone. Here’s to 70 more years of Godzilla wrecking its way to our kaiju-sized hearts!
“Wish” stars Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Kumiyama, Evan Peters, Harvey Guillén, Ramy Youssef, Niko Vargas, Della Saba, and Jon Rudnitsky. Released on November 22, 2023, the film has a young woman attempting to protect a kingdom and the star she discovered.
The film was directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn (in her feature directorial debut). Buck is known for directing "Tarzan," "Surf's Up," "Frozen," and "Frozen II." It is the 62nd feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Throughout its centennial, Disney has crafted a boatload of stories that are breathtaking, inspiring, influential, and endearing. While some of them aren't as well-received as others, most of them remain a place in our hearts and the animation hall of fame, like "Snow White," "Pinocchio," and even "The Princess and the Frog." What these movies and many others have in common is that they follow the studio's traditional theme of wishing upon a star, which became the go-to motto for the company regarding the products and its audience. For its 100th anniversary, Disney found the perfect opportunity to answer a couple of century-old questions that left us wondering. Where does a wishing star come from, and how is it significant in making our dreams a reality? Those answers were found in the studio's latest animated feature that puts a new meaning to "when you wish upon a star". Not only that, but it also seeks to capitalize on the studio's legacy through its style, narrative, and a bunch of Easter Eggs. Were they enough to deliver a return to form for the House of Mouse? Let's find out.
The story follows Asha (DeBose), a 17-year-old enthusiastic girl living in the Kingdom of Rosas. The kingdom is ruled by King Magnifico (Pine), a self-centered ruler who is also the sole keeper of people's wishes. However, what the villagers don't know is that Magnifico keeps most of their wishes inside his wish bubbles and uses only those that benefit the kingdom and even himself. When Asha uncovers his nefarious secret, she passionately pleads to the stars to help her save her home. In response, a unique star named Star appears from the sky and is revealed to have magical powers. With the help of her pet goat, Valentino (Tudyk), and her friends, Asha attempts to save her people's wishes and protect Star from Magnifico, who seeks to use the magic star to gain control over his kingdom.
I know I said this a lot, but Disney has been a part of my life since I was born in the 90s. If it weren't for the studio's Renaissance movies and many others before them, I wouldn't have learned to communicate with people, including my family. More importantly, I wouldn't have developed a strong passion for film, especially animated ones. Sure, the people running the studio have been making many dumb decisions, especially with Disney+ and their recent attempts at "impressing" everybody. Still, I'll never forget what their animated treasures have done to help me become…well, me. So, if you're still wondering why I'm still watching anything Disney-related, that's why. Of course, "Wish" is no different, especially since it has the studio going back to the basics with its storytelling and animation style that made its old-school fairy tale movies fantastic. Unfortunately, that strategy doesn't seem to be working well in its favor regarding the mixed reviews, sour audience reviews on social media, and box office performance. It's enough to keep my expectations in check, but the only question that matters is whether the film is fun and magical enough to be watchable.
As mentioned earlier, "Wish" has Disney returning to its traditional storytelling roots with its simplicity and fairy-tale-like vibes, similar to ones like "Snow White" and "Cinderella", but still retains its modern elements of today. It also incorporated plenty of references resembling the studio's legacy. This approach of combining Easter eggs and story isn't anything new for the mega-billion company, as it has done that in "Enchanted", "Wreck-It Ralph" and its sequel, and even its recently-released short film, "Once Upon a Studio". By the way, "Once Upon a Studio" is worth a watch if you haven't, especially if you're a Disney fan. If there's one thing I know from watching plenty of animated movies for families, it's that simplistic storytelling is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's safe and harmless for children and maybe their parents to enjoy without worrying about the outside world. On the other hand, it risks losing numerous opportunities to explore its themes and characters further in its surprises and depth. Nowadays, it's one of the battles in the movie business that seems impossible to win because, as usual, we can't impress everybody.
Unsurprisingly, "Wish" is another part of that struggle, with its plot having its share of strengths and weaknesses. For the former, the movie offers a back-to-basic formula from Disney's "golden days" that's as simple as wishing upon a star, along with the usual elements that made us fall in love with the brand. More importantly, it reflects that wishes are a part of ourselves, which helped Disney provide some of the most beloved characters ever. They're the driving force that makes us human, and they help us strive to make them come true without anyone daring to crush them. Part of Disney's legacy isn't just through its movies. It's also inspiring people to keep their dreams alive in their hearts. Without them, we'd become as cranky as Grumpy from "Snow White" or the Disney haters on social media. Was the film groundbreaking enough to emphasize its thematic intention? Storytelling-wise, no. However, it's tolerable, humorous, and cute enough in its message and entertaining plot to forgive the studio's decision to temporarily retire its modern tropes, including the villain twists.
As for its weaknesses, "Wish" doesn't offer much else in its formulaic and straightforward narrative and characters to reach the magical heights of Disney's other classics. There's nothing wrong with simple storytelling in movies made for kids and their parents as long as it has something casual adult moviegoers can also enjoy. While it may have a few elements I found amusing, such as Star, the film's spark periodically faltered with its desire to make itself safe for kids and provide nostalgic vibes with its Easter eggs. Thankfully, they're not as abundant as what Warner Brothers did with "Space Jam 2". Part of that is due to its pacing. It goes by smoothly to fit its brief 95-minute runtime, especially for younger audiences. Sadly, it also caused the movie to leave out some vital character developments that could've benefited enormously from its themes and character relationships, with the primary example being Simon (Evan Peters), one of Asha's friends who wishes to become a knight. There's also the dynamic between Asha and Magnifico, who share different beliefs in wish granting, causing the latter's obsession with control and power to increase gradually as the film progresses. I thought that could use some tweaks as well.
Another reason for the movie's misfortune is the side characters. Disney is always known for delivering sidekicks that are as memorable and endearing as its protagonists. So, I find it disappointing that the side characters in "Wish" are just…okay. They're not great, and they're not terrible, either. They're just fine. Asha's friends, who resemble the seven dwarfs, are likable yet bare-bones, and Star is another adorable character that'll likely be the talk of the merchandising town. The only side character I thought was the weakest part of the movie was Valentino, Asha's pet goat who gained the ability to talk like Clayface from "Harley Quinn". I have no disrespect toward Alan Tudyk, especially since he's got a good vocal range, but Valentino felt emptier than the rest of the characters, mainly for his bland humor and forgettable personality. Regarding the narrative, "Wish" is admirable for paying tribute to the straightforward, old-school Disney trend through its magic and charm. Unfortunately, that can only take it so far regarding its lack of thematic depth and harmless plot, especially with today's critical standards.
Along with its story, "Wish" also compensated for its understandable flaws by making its wish of a talented voice cast come true. Ariana DeBose, who recently won an Oscar for her performance in 2021's "West Side Story", takes center stage as the voice of Asha, and she unsurprisingly nails it. Despite Asha's quirky personality feeling equivalent to Anna from "Frozen", DeBose's voice delivers a satisfying vibe to her determined, energetic, and kind-hearted spirit. Plus, her singing was spot on, especially during the "This Wish" sequence. Chris Pine also did a good job voicing Magnifico, a straight-up villain thirsty for dark magic. While I'm not entirely convinced Magnifico would join the other classic Disney villains like Scar, Jafar, and Dr. Facilier, I was nonetheless entertained by Pine hammering it up as the devious and malicious king. I already mentioned Alan Tudyk as Valentino, but I'm going to repeat it anyway because why not? Tudyk is fine in the role, but his character is pretty mundane.
Then, we have the animation, which has been getting a lot of mixed reactions from everyone who saw it. With the combination of CGI and hand-drawn animation, the presentation in "Wish" resembles a classic storybook brought to life, similar to what "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" accomplished in its art style. However, it's also supposed to resemble Disney's watercolor animation from the studio's earlier works regarding its settings. It would've helped if it was 100% traditional animation to further emphasize the product as a 100-year tribute as initially planned, but what can you do? While it's far from revolutionary like the "Puss in Boots" sequel, the animation in "Wish" is admirable in the animators's efforts to blend the studio's past and present on the movie's canvas. There were a few moments when the animation's lighting looked a tad unfinished, but they hardly detract from the vibrancy and magic the remaining movie delivered.
Finally, we have another crucial piece of the Disney formula puzzle: the songs. The tunes in "Wish" were produced by singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice, with the score composed by Disney Animation veteran Dave Metzger. Like the supporting characters, the music is acceptable in capturing the beauty, emotion, and color of the film's presentation. However, I don't see its songs becoming instant classics as time progresses. "This Wish" and "Knowing What I Know Now" were my favorites of the bunch, while "This Is the Thanks I Get" by Chris Pine was surprisingly out-of-place regarding its tone and Magnifico's vile personality. They're not memorable, but I enjoyed listening to them regardless.
Overall, "Wish" is admirable in providing kid-friendly entertainment values and paying respectable tribute to Disney's legacy, even though it struggled to grant our wishes for a much stronger narrative. It checks off almost all of the boxes from the studio's traditional formula of years past, for better or worse, and its message appropriately resembles Disney's iconic history. The problem is that its story needs more fresh ideas to further capitalize on the studio's victory lap on an emotional and creative level. It'll satisfy most people who want a more traditional and straightforward film from Disney, especially when it benefits from its voice cast, diverting yet basic plot, and decent animation. However, people who prefer the studio's modern works involving bold storytelling, mature themes, and surprising twists won't get their wish granted from "Wish". Its simplistic storytelling, weak side characters, and passable songs might not be enough to win over all of the studio's detractors, but based on my experience with it, it doesn't deserve the drama it's getting.
When it comes to Disney celebrating its 100th anniversary, I would say that "Once Upon a Studio" did a much better job handling this approach, making it the perfect way to cap off its flawed celebration. "Wish" is basically the dessert that comes with the recent short film. It's not as special as the main course that is "Once Upon a Studio", but it's delectable enough to satisfy my taste buds. Don't get me wrong, "Wish" is an enjoyable watch for what it is, but it could've been even better if it weren't for the studio's meddling. Despite its recent poor choices, I still appreciate the great things Disney has done throughout its 100-year history, mainly granting my wish to communicate through their classic movies, and I hope it fixes itself to regain that type of magic sooner rather than later. The brand has done it before, so here's hoping it can do that again. Until then, happy anniversary, Disney.