The Return of the Disney Villain: Why I’m Excited for “Wish”

Will Donahue ‘24

Opinions Editor

It’s safe to say that the 2020s have not been kind to Disney-branded animation. Three out of the four most recent Pixar films have been direct-to-streaming releases on Disney+, and the fourth – “Lightyear”, a spinoff of the “Toy Story” series – suffered a historically underwhelming run at the box office (Variety). Walt Disney Animation Studios also saw one of their lowest-performing releases in history with “Strange World” – estimated to have lost the company at least $100 million. By every metric, it seems like the glory days of the 90s Disney renaissance and 2010s CG animation boom are far behind us; that is, unless “Wish” comes to the rescue.

Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” will tell the story of Asha (Ariana DeBose), a teenage heroine who must confront the wicked King Magnifico (Chris Pine) and save the magical wish-granting kingdom of Rosas. There’s plenty to be excited for with “Wish”, not the least of which being its stylized blend of classic 2D and modern 3D animation, a look popularized by films like “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish”. But in my eyes, the biggest (potential) draw here is none other than King Magnifico – who, based on his foreboding monologue and maniacal laugh in the trailer, is shaping up to be our next classic Disney villain.

We are long overdue for a classically evil villain from Disney. For over a decade now, the company’s roster of baddies has seen a streak of “twist villains”: characters who appear friendly at first, only for their true evil intentions to come to light in a dramatic twist reveal. Examples include Hans from “Frozen”, Mayor Bellwether from “Zootopia”, and Evelyn from “The Incredibles 2”. Twist villains in and of themselves are a fun storytelling device, especially for an audience of kids; but in recent years, they have become the new norm for the studio – and now the “twists” are more expected than ever. To paraphrase Syndrome: “When everyone’s a twist villain… no one is.”

Besides, I know I speak for many when I say Disney’s classic villains are simply too iconic to ignore. Dark fairies, conniving lions, and sea-dwelling tentacle witches are among the most memorable characters in the company’s history – as well the source of their greatest songs (seriously, stop what you’re doing right now and listen to “Hellfire” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”). I’ve seen arguments that two-faced or sympathetic villains are more realistic, and I cannot deny that. But there’s an undeniable charm about a villain who relishes in their villainy. Their unambiguous evil takes us back to the simplicity of childhood – a feeling which Disney movies have always sought to replicate. And I hope “Wish” is not an exception.

All that being said, I know I’m not the final arbiter on this topic. Princess movies like “Wish” are made for little girls – a demographic I am ostensibly not a part of. But as an avid villain enthusiast, it’s hard for me not to get excited about this movie. I’m only a little ashamed to admit that Disney villain anthems regularly fill my music playlists, and I’d love nothing more than to add another classic to that number. And unless the trailer is misleading me into yet another twist, it looks like “Wish” will deliver on that front.

Featured image courtesy of Disney “Wish” Promo

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