The new film is a veritable reunion of the key players responsible for the 2013 pop culture phenomenon and its 2019 sequel: Frozen writer and co-director Jennifer Lee is one of the writers of Wish (she also now happens to be the head of Disney Animation); co-director Chris Buck returns in the same role (this time tag-teaming with Fawn Veerasunthorn, who worked in Frozen’s art department); and lead producer Peter Del Vecho is back (here with Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster-Jones, who worked on development of Frozen II).
After the massive success of two Frozen movies — a worldwide box-office tally of more than $2.7 billion, and one, possibly two more installments on the way — why wouldn’t Disney run it back with the same team?
Inevitably, Wish, which follows a 17-year-old girl named Asha (Ariana DeBose) who rebels against the tyrannical wish-suppressing ruler (Chris Pine) of the Mediterranean Kingdom of Rojas, shares more in common with Frozen than its Arendelle-powered pedigree.
“I think all the things that have mattered to us with Frozen, this big epic fairytale, strong heroine character, incredible music, those are the things that are goals for us,” Lee tells Yahoo Entertainment of the film, which was also inspired by the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney Studios and contains more than 100 Easter eggs and references to past Mouse House movies.
“And what’s exciting about this movie though is it’s sort of a bridge, because there are a lot of folks [from] the Frozen team and in combination with a lot of new filmmakers and new songwriters [like] Julia Michaels, who is of a new generation, fresh and brilliant. ... So it’s not Frozen, it’s its own thing, but it is [similar] in the love and the playfulness of our spirit in it.”
“I think the DNA is basically a love of Disney, a love of all the movies that we grew up on, all the great storytelling that Walt did that Walt was just a master at,” says Buck. “And I think that’s where Frozen came from. That’s where Wish comes from. So I think that’s in sort of the Disney DNA.”
“They do have a similar energy,” adds DeBose, who won an Oscar in 2022 for West Side Story. “But the stories in and of themselves, I think stand in their own world, which is great. I mean, who knows if one of our songs will become the next ‘Let It Go.’ But I think the important part is that no matter how you want to deem success, this story to me, it’s just as epic as the story of Frozen, and you have every single element of Disney classics instilled in our film, and so that to me is very exciting.”
Where Wish also very noticeably departs from Frozen is its characterization of the heroine, Asha. For years Disney has been grappling with how to balance the studio’s storied tradition introducing new “Disney princesses” (and all the marketing tie-ins, apparel, dolls, etc. that come with it) while simultaneously recognizing the conceit as increasingly antiquated.
In recent years, Disney animators have been making females increasingly stronger and with more agency, no longer damsels in the distress but warriors willing to battle. Mulan, Merida (Brave) Moana and Raya (Raya and the Last Dragon) are not your grandmother’s Disney princess. Some, like Moana, even went out of their way to refuse the title.
And unlike Elsa and Anna, Asha is not royalty, the filmmakers will tell you, inherently clearing her of the princess moniker — even if she’s already being considered part of the sisterhood by fans.
“What's interesting [is] if you look at the original fairy tales [many] were based on like Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, princess was a different concept,” Lee says. That was sort of the reward. And I think how we evolved is where you look at Frozen, to be the princesses put a lot of pressure on them, and to be a queen, you hold the responsibility. … That was part of why we made Anna and Elsa royal, because of the princess legacy, but because that put everything on them. With Asha, what I was really excited about was the ordinary hero’s journey, [and] still being up against extraordinary circumstances.”
“She’s common and we think that makes her incredibly relatable,” says Del Vecho. “I think there’s parts of her we can all see ourselves in. Certainly our heroines have evolved over time. We’re trying to make these movies feel timely and timeless. So it both has to feel of the world that we live in, but also stand the test of time. And I think Asha does that.”
Says DeBose: “I think Asha takes us into uncharted territory, which is really cool. It opens the door for a completely new chapter for Disney animation. … She starts out on what I think we would say is a traditional Disney path for princesses or heroines, and then she decidedly chooses her own path, and I think that’s what should be modeled for young people, don’t you?”
Wish opens nationwide Nov. 22.