Behind The Magic Of Disney’s Wish

In 2023, Walt Disney Studios celebrated their 100th anniversary – and behind the scenes, the pressure to make a movie that would perfectly fit the centenary was on.

For Fawn Veerasunthorn, an animator at the studio making her co-directorial debut, the process of making a film to mark the occasion proved daunting, before the team had even begun developing the story that would become Wish.

She explained to Zavvi: “Work started in 2018, with the knowledge that we had five years until the 100 years celebration. We knew we wanted to create something that would honour the storytelling and the characters from the studio’s history, but that led to a lot of pressure, as we always knew that this still had to be a completely original fairytale.”

The starting point for the story, naturally, came from looking back throughout the studio’s legacy, and the recurrent motif of characters wishing upon a star for their dreams come true. For Veerasunthorn, this was “in the very DNA” of the archetypal Disney animation: “it felt like Walt was around, whispering in our ears”.

However, this does raise another issue: when directly positioning the project as both a celebration and continuation of the studio’s identity, there is the inherent risk of remaining in the shadow of countless masterpieces that came before. And if you’re a die-hard fan of vintage Disney, this is undoubtedly the most anxiety-inducing aspect of taking on such a project.

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“I’m not going to lie, it was scary”, Veerasunthorn added. “As a Disney fan, I set myself certain standards that it needed to meet, as I their films are so dear to my heart.

“This isn’t just any Disney film, it’s one that should celebrate the essence of all their movies, all of which have inspired me as a person. But once I came to terms with that, there was a lot of excitement; I realised the challenge wasn’t just meeting the Disney standard, but surpassing it.”

To help with this challenge was co-director Chris Buck, a veteran at the studio who previously won an Oscar for his work on Frozen. Describing being asked to make a milestone movie as “an honour”, he told Zavvi: “I grew up on the Disney films, they’ve always be a part of me, long before I worked there!

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“To make what is essentially a love letter to Walt Disney and the artists who came before us was a thrill, and I hope people who see this movie share that same affection we have for those movies.”

Choosing to make the wishing star the core of the story was the jumping-off point. After all, the song When You Wish Upon A Star – which first appeared in Pinocchio – introduces each of the studio’s releases as Disney’s current theme music, a legacy it would feel logical to build from.

Set on the mystical island of Rosas, Wish tells the story of a community indebted to the king Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), a magician who captures the wishes of each resident, granting one a month at a spectacular ceremony. However, Asha (Ariana DaBose), a teenager hoping to become his apprentice, soon discovers he has a darker intent; keeping the populace in place by keeping their biggest hopes and dreams, all of which they forget after they’ve been wished away.

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With a story that could easily reference the themes at the heart of many a Disney classic in place, the filmmakers then proceeded to look at other ways they could nod to the studio’s back catalogue. Like every one of the animation studio’s theatrically released films of late, this is a CG-animation, which meant extra care and consideration had to be taken when incorporating the visual style of their earliest releases.

Buck continued: “We looked at Snow White and Pinocchio when crafting this story, and were struck by the beautiful watercolour backgrounds that feel just like a storybook. We thought, “wouldn’t it be awesome to use the computer to move around in those storybook illustrations, seeing this world in 360 degrees in the way technology wouldn’t allow before?”

“It was exciting to us the new technology to dive into what made us nostalgic for classic Disney, but it was a challenge along the way. We wanted these digitally animated characters to evoke a hand-drawn look, so the impulse was to add lines and interior lines around the characters so they’d look like old-school animation.

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“But as I come from a hand-drawn background, I knew that the trick here was to not use too many lines. Working with artists, it was a case of choosing the simple details that could emphasise their most important characteristics, making them as appealing as possible, and not distracting in their animation style.”

As Veerasunthorn noted, this led to a lot of trial-and-error during production, as they tried to find the right balance between 2D and 3D animation; delighting purists of the traditional style and paying tribute to the studio’s legacy, whilst not overwhelming by relying on these stylistic choices too much. This was the sole focus, but soon, the directors had acquired enough pitches from the animation team to start incorporating a plethora of Easter Eggs paying tribute to a plethora of Disney classics.

“We didn’t start off with a list of what we wanted to hide, it was always about making a story that could stand on its own”, she continued. “But once that was sorted and we were in production, people kept coming up with ideas, and it became apparent that this was an effective way to express our love for characters and stories throughout the process.

“It was all about finding the right place. We didn’t want to sneak in references for the sake of it; the story has to function, so any additional Easter Eggs don’t just distract the audience when they do come up.”

For Buck, the best of these is the one that caps off the arc of Asha’s 100-year-old grandfather Sabino (Victor Garber), who has never had his wish granted, despite being taken from him many years earlier. This doesn’t materialise until it arrives as a post-credits scene, however, largely because the team couldn’t find a home for it until very late in production.

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“It’s a nod to our legacy that I find special, and we always had the idea to incorporate a reference to that classic Disney moment somehow, somewhere. But we could never find the right place for it.

“It wasn’t until the last couple of months making the movie where we found the right place, and we were thrilled we could put it in there. It’s a very special moment that nods to our legacy beautifully, and I hope people stay around for it.”

Wish is released on Blu-ray on Monday, 25th March. Shop here.

Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.