‘Wish’ could have been great, but isn’t. Is that too much to wish for?


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Sing along, kids, you know the words: When you wish upon a staaar

… Disney might sue for copyright infringement.

Oops, is that not how it goes? Forgive my cynicism, but there’s something vaguely commercial, something faintly corporate, about the Mouse House’s new animated feature “Wish,” which, like nearly all Disney-branded content, opens with the musical strains of the instantly recognizable melody “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from “Pinocchio” — excuse me, from Disney’s “Pinocchio”; there are other versions — playing under the animated trademark of a castle. It’s not just the plot of the story, which in celebration of the studio’s 100th anniversary revolves entirely around the theme of wishes coming true. It’s in the songs (by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice), which include the lyrics, “When it comes to the universe, we’re all shareholders.”

You’ll walk out of the theater humming that one, whether you like it or not.

At times, the film feels less like an homage to a beloved legacy than a 1½-hour piece of advertainment.

The tale begins in another castle, this one in the island kingdom of Rosas, a cosmopolitan Mediterranean melting pot whose Moorish architecture evokes the Iberian peninsula, populated by people of many skin tones, and with a culture that blends the influence of Islamic Africa with Spain and beyond. “Hola! Shalom! Salam!” shouts the film’s heroine, 17-year-old Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose), as she introduces us to her home. (The multiculti medieval production design, which includes a freckled, Afro-Latina protagonist — don’t say princess — with long braids, is the coolest thing about the film, said to take place in the 13th century.)

Rosas is a special place, ruled by the sorcerer-king Magnifico (Chris Pine), who at first seems to be a benevolent despot. Magnifico has the power to grant wishes, which he does once a month in a special public ceremony. But he also has the power to withhold wishes, which he also does if he unilaterally deems a wish dangerous or unhealthy. Those wishes, depicted as glowing glass orbs — like floating Christmas ornaments — go into a kind of cold storage, never to be returned to their makers.

When Asha, who has applied for the job of the sorcerer’s (cough, cough) apprentice, finds out, she takes it upon herself to retrieve her compatriots’ wishes, or at least the wish of her (cough, cough) 100-year-old grandfather (Victor Garber), a musician who dreams of nothing less than inspiring a new generation with his art. This mission is undertaken with the help of a magical anthropomorphic wishing star that falls from the heavens, beeping, whizzing and giggling, in the process giving Asha’s animal sidekick, an adorable baby goat in pajamas (Alan Tudyk), the gift of human speech.

At one point, Valentino says, “I dream of a utopian metropolis where all mammals are equal and wear clothes!” It’s a meta-joke, and it’s kind of funny — half groan-worthy and half wink-wink witty. But it’s also pretty darn close to the dictionary definition of an animated Disney film.

Which is also kind of what “Wish” feels like at times: not a movie made by filmmakers with an original vision, but one assembled by focus group, with an eye more on fan service than on fresh ideas. (It’s directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, from a script by Jennifer Lee, Allison Moore and Buck. Buck and Lee, of course, are the creative forces behind the juggernaut Frozen franchise.)

“Wish” isn’t bad, but also it isn’t great. Or great enough for a centennial, at any rate. Is there a villainous villain? Spunky teen heroine? Cute talking animal (shades of Djali in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”)? C-suite-approved corporate branding? Check, check, check and check. It all feels familiar, which is another word for comforting. And “Wish,” however recycled it may be, is at least that: warm, funny-ish and with its heart in the right place.

It’s churlish to complain about something so silly. But Disney has a reputation to uphold: the “wonderful world” and all that. When blowing out the candles on this cake, however, it feels like someone ran out of breath shy of 100, making this one “Wish” that, sadly, doesn’t come true.

PG. At area theaters. Contains mature thematic elements and mild action. 95 minutes.

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