November 28, 2023 – In many ways, this movie harkens back to the early days of Disney Studios (the company was founded as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio 100 years ago). The animated fantasy movie opens with the familiar image of a book opening and the words “Once Upon a Time.”
Using a blend of old school hand-drawn images and modern computer animation, along with lots of songs, it tells the story of a young woman, Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose of “West Side Story”) who dreams of fulfilling a wish, and a corrupt King, Magnifico, who magically extracts wishes from his subjects, and hoards them, in the island kingdom of Rosas.
Magnifico has hoodwinked the entire population into believing that he has the right to keep everyone's dreams. He holds a ceremony once a month to grant one wish to a person selected by the King himself. Asha briefly gains the King's confidence and learns that the King feels threatened by many of the wishes, and so will grant very few of them. She knows this is wrong, and sets out on a path opposing the King.
Frustrated that her 100-year-old grandfather's wish will never be granted, Asha goes to her favorite place at night and makes a wish to the stars that all the wishes locked up in the King's castle could be free. A star descends from the heavens to grant her wish. It is a cute little star (so cute it is kind of cheesy) that sprinkles magic dust around, causing animals to be able to speak, including Asha's goat, Valentino.
It turns out that despite having a magic star, getting the hoarded wishes back to the population of Rosas will require Asha to have willing allies. To recruit allies, she must convince her friends that the King is corrupt. The King makes it easier for Asha to recruit allies when he becomes paranoid about losing his power. He turns to black magic to try to hold onto his power, and it becomes increasingly obvious that the King is becoming a menace to anyone who opposes him.
As the King becomes more powerful, Asha and her allies become official enemies of the state. Asha has to send her family away to hide out from the King's wrath. Things get very desperate at the end.
Much of this story is told through songs, written by Julia Michaels and J.P. Saxe. Unfortunately, I was unable to understand a lot of the lyrics of the songs. Today, just before writing this review, I watched several music videos on Disney's YouTube channel, which show the lyrics of the songs.
These are not the kind of simple repetitious songs with catchy lyrics that you remember and sing along to, like the song millions of little kids have bothered their parents with, “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen.” These are dense, conversational lyrics set to pop music that tell stories.
One song, for instance, “I'm a Star,” has lyrics about physics and astronomy, about how we are all made from substances released in supernova explosions in outer space. I didn't get that at all in the movie theater. I got it from the on-screen lyrics in Disney's artful music video on YouTube.
Here is a part of the song, “I'm a Star,” copied from the Genius Lyrics page:
When it comes to the universe we're all shareholders
Get that trough your system (Solar)
See we're all just little nebulae in a nursery
From supernovas now we've grown into our history
This song has clever, scientific lyrics, but it does not have catchy earworms, like the most famous Disney songs do.
I enjoyed the music which fills this movie, even if I missed out on a lot of the lyrics. I still caught the point of songs like “This is the Thanks I Get,” sung by Chris Pine (“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves”) who provides the voice for King Magnifico, and the song about revolution from the cast, “Knowing What I Know Now.”
The obvious point of the movie is about the dangers of autocracy and how even good people can be corrupted by power. It is also a movie about the quest for freedom and the power of dreams. I enjoyed this movie, even though I felt a bit left out by it. This film rates a C+. I recommend watching this film with subtitles which include song lyrics (some subtitles include song lyrics, some don't). Most theaters have subtitle equipment. Most streaming movies and movies on disk, also have subtitles.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.