By Bruce C. Steele
The beauty of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 62nd feature, Wish, is as much in its creation of rich and memorable characters as it is in the film’s stunning, watercolor-inspired visuals. Set in the late Middle Ages in a fictional Mediterranean island realm called Rosas, Wish contemplates the importance of our deepest held wishes in shaping our lives. In Rosas, each resident gives their greatest wish to the realm’s ruler, a powerful sorcerer named King Magnifico, when they turn 18. The king promises to protect the wishes—and periodically to grant some of them. Is this a blessing, as the king believes? That’s the crux of the story, which brings together a range of fascinating characters. Below, we introduce many of these, with comments from the film’s directors, Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn.
The story’s heroine is Asha, a 17-year-old “quick-witted idealist,” as Veerasunthorn describes her. She begins as an admirer of the charismatic King Magnifico and meets him when she interviews to be his apprentice. When the king reveals the dark side of his guardianship of all the wishes of the people of Rosas, “everything changes” for Asha, Veerasunthorn tells D23.com. “I love seeing a character going through such extraordinary circumstances and not quite knowing what to do. Over the course of the movie, she blossoms into this leader she didn’t even know she could be.” Asha is voiced by Oscar® winner Ariana DeBose, who “brings so much of herself to the character,” Buck notes—including her powerful and expressive singing voice.
“I am a handsome king,” Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) says proudly to his admiring queen early in the movie. It’s true, but his vanity and ego also fuel his desire to mercilessly crush Asha’s challenge to his principles. Magnifico thrives on control—but has convinced himself that his actions in guarding all the wishes are merely protecting his subjects from disappointment. His self-contradictions lead to both scary moments and moments of humor. “We wanted to have fun with the villain,” Buck tells D23.com. “The goal is for viewers to think to themselves, ‘I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.’”
The queen (voiced by Angelique Cabral) loves her husband and respects his ruling choices—including his reluctant decision to keep a forbidden book of dark magic behind an enchanted lock. But Queen Amaya also sympathizes with Asha, leading her to face some difficult decisions.
The nonverbal, childlike wishing star who comes down from the sky as a result of Asha’s wish is a joyful, unpredictable ball of kinetic power. “We love that chaotic energy,” Veerasunthorn says of Star. “There’s this burst of courage that pulls you into pursuing your dreams, and Star embodies that spirit.”
The young goat, wearing his dashing pajamas, is Asha’s adorable animal companion who gains the power of speech from Star. Voiced by Disney regular Alan Tudyk, Valentino fancies himself a wise adviser despise his age. “Some of our best characters are sidekicks,” says Buck of Disney Animation creations. “Valentino started as an older goat but then got younger as we went on developing [the story].” Still, the kid goat speaks with Tudyk’s “velvety tones,” Buck notes, crediting the actor with adding his own humorous spin to the character. “Alan brings so much improv [to recording sessions],” the director says. “I’ve worked with Alan on several movies, and they’re always great sessions.”
Asha’s mother (voiced by Natasha Rothwell) is supportive of her daughter, whom Sakina knows misses her late father as much as Sakina herself does. As tensions rise in Rosas, she finds herself pulled into Asha’s clash with King Magnifico in unexpected ways.
Asha’s grandfather (voiced by Victor Garber) is celebrating his 100th birthday, and it’s Asha’s desire for him to have his long-delayed wish granted that leads to her conflict with Magnifico. Like his daughter-in-law, Sakina, Sabino is supportive of Asha’s own dreams but concerned that she may be putting her future at risk.
Viewers may draw some parallels between the seven teenagers who work with Asha in the castle at Rosas and another group of seven friends in an earlier Disney Animation feature. In Asha’s circle, Dahlia (voiced by Jennifer Kumiyama) is the most mature and grounded. Gabo (voiced by Harvey Guillén) is the skeptical one; Simon (voiced by Evan Peters) the sleepy, dream-clouded one. Safi (voiced by Ramy Youssef) is a comic character who seems to suffer from allergies, while Bazeema (voiced by Della Saba) tends to stay in the background. Dario (voiced by Jon Rudnitsky) is smarter than his gangly appearance would suggest, while Hal (voiced by Niko Vargas) offers an optimistic take on most situations. Most important, Asha relies on her friends to support her when the going gets tough—and most of them come through in loving solidarity, even if it means putting themselves in danger.