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Careful what you ‘Wish’ for

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – From Cruella de Vil to Scar, Disney has created many of cinema’s most memorable villains – but bombastic baddies have been notably absent from the studio’s recent hits.

In movies such as Frozen 2 and Raya and the Last Dragon, heroes have battled abstract enemies like mistrust and xenophobia rather than puppy-flaying prima donnas or regicidal uncles, leaving some fans disappointed.

That is about to change with Wish, an old-school animation which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Disney with dozens of throwbacks to the studio’s earliest films – including their dastardly antagonists.

“We hear what people are saying out there – the fans are like, ‘Just give us a villain! A real good old-fashioned villain!’” director Chris Buck told AFP.

“And a good-looking villain!” added his fellow director Fawn Veerasunthorn.

Wish follows the adventures of Asha, a plucky 17-year-old girl who unexpectedly finds herself pitted against the handsome, duplicitous King Magnifico.

Asha, voiced by Ariana DeBose and Valentino, voiced by Alan Tudyk, in a scene from ‘Wish’. PHOTO: AP
King Magnifico, voiced by Chris Pine, in a scene from the animated film ‘Wish’. PHOTO: AP

Magnifico – voiced by Chris Pine – is a seemingly benevolent sorcerer-monarch, with the power to grant the wishes of his subjects and those who travel to his Medieval realm from far and wide.

But when Asha (Arianna DeBose) applies for a job as Magnifico’s apprentice, she quickly learns that the king only grants wishes that suit his own selfish purposes.

“He starts off charming,” explained Veerasunthorn, but “we get to see the evolution of how he became the villain throughout the course of the story.”

For producers Peter Del Vecho and Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones, there is something “delicious” about watching a villain make all the wrong choices.

“Disney villains are funny and fun, and they are over-the-top at times,” said Reyes.

“But also they have their reasons to be villainous. And the villain song! Who hasn’t missed a villain song?”

The movie, from the creators of Frozen, was dreamt up as a way to celebrate Disney Animation’s centenary.

Early in the process, Buck and writer-producer Jennifer Lee sought inspiration by putting together a giant bulletin board with stills from all of the studio’s previous films.

They quickly realised that a common theme linking films from Pinocchio to Moana was characters wishing on stars.

Visually, Wish uses a watercolour style reminiscent of the fairytale storybooks that originally inspired Walt Disney to make his first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, back in 1937.

Disney staples such as talking animals hark back to movies like Pinocchio and Bambi. And when Asha makes a powerful wish of her own, she accidentally conjures to life an impish Star reminiscent of the earliest Disney character of them all – Mickey Mouse.

Directors Buck and Veerasunthorn encouraged crew across the various departments to suggest their own ways to honour Disney’s legacy, and ended up having to create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the references to previous films.

“I don’t know how many, but there’s a list of all the nods that we have – and it’s a long list!” said Buck.

The filmmakers even mined Walt Disney’s childhood for inspiration. Researchers discovered that the studio’s founder once dressed up animals in human clothes on the farm where he grew up.

Accordingly, Asha is accompanied on her adventures by a pyjama-wearing goat called Valentino. And then, of course there, is the villain, King Magnifico, who has obvious shades of the Wicked Queen from Snow White, and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. “Certainly for this movie – for the 100th anniversary – it seemed great to celebrate that,” said Del Vecho.

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