Interviews Movies

Producer Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones Explains How Wish Pays Homage to Walt Disney

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ all-new musical comedy Wish takes audiences to the magical kingdom of Rosas, where Asha, a sharp-witted idealist, makes a wish so powerful it is answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, Asha and Star confront a most formidable foe—the ruler of Rosas, King Magnifico—to save her community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.

Whether it’s Geppetto looking up at the stars and wishing for his wooden Pinocchio to become a real boy, Tiana gazing at the night sky as she dreams of owning her own business, or Moana turning to the stars in her quest to save her island, so many of Disney’s most beloved characters are defined by their dreams. Wish celebrates that kind of passion. At the heart of this film is: There is no greater power in the universe than someone with a true wish in their heart. It really is a film about understanding that with great wishes often comes greater struggle.

While the film pays homage to Disney’s legacy, it is also a reflection of the present and future of the celebrated studio with its innovative visuals, breadth of cultural inspirations, and contemporary, engaging music. Wish explores what it means to make a wish and the people who can point us in the right direction.

I’M A STAR – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” sharp-witted idealist Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) makes a wish so powerful, it’s answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” features original songs by Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and musician Benjamin Rice. The epic animated musical opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

In celebration of Wish, The Koalition spoke to Producer Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones was on the studio’s creative development team in 2018, taking part in the blue-sky sessions with a group of directors and writers.

For 17-year-old Asha, wishes are everything—in fact, they’re the foundation of her kingdom. It’s a place where dreams can literally and magically come true. A fantastical island located off the Iberian Peninsula; Rosas is home to a tight-knit community led by King Magnifico. People are so full of hope, they come from all around the world to give their wishes to this wonderful king who promises to keep their dreams safe. They don’t have to worry about anything because he’ll grant those wishes someday.

“The genesis of the story started in 2018 when Jennifer Lee, Our Chief Creative Officer noticed in 2023, we turned 100. So, we wanted to commemorate that but at the same time create something original. So, we started with the emotions: ‘What does Disney mean to all of us?’ We started to talk about words like, ‘joy,’ ‘hope,’ ‘wishing,’ and ‘Wishing on a Star.’

“The initial point was, ‘Let’s go back to the very beginning to give these characters their own origin story.’ We definitely wanted this to have Disney at its core and as its essence because it’s a love letter to Disney Animation. So, when we started with the idea of the Wishing Star, we thought it was very classic and we see so many characters wish upon one but then we continue to build upon that and have a lot of Disney nods and references as long as they felt organic to the story, and it didn’t get in the way of creating the original idea. You see stuff like Star being inspired by Mickey Mouse himself with the little star, with the little heart mask on its face and there’s a list that goes on where every Department BR a little bit of the Disney DNA into the mix.”

IT’S GOOD TO BE KING – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” King Magnifico is the most powerful person in the kingdom of Rosas, where wishes really do come true. People come from everywhere to give their wishes to Magnifico, a charming and confident king who promises to grant their deepest desires—someday. But the king isn’t entirely altruistic; he alone decides whose wish will be granted, and he relishes the control. Featuring the voice of Chris Pine as King Magnifico, the epic animated musical “Wish” hits the big screen on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Wish is set in the fictional kingdom of Rosas—its promise of wishes coming true has inspired people from around the world to call it home. Rosas is an island at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula—it would logically have North African and southern European influences. They were deeply inspired by influences from all over the world; everything from characters to costumes—including headwear and patterns—to architecture.

Filmmakers called on experts to ensure their references conveyed a feeling of authenticity. They worked with cultural consultants on the clothing—what the fashion of the time might be. They also worked with UCLA socio-cultural historical anthropologist professor Aomar Boum to ensure the crossing of cultural influences that took place in the region during the Middle Ages was well represented.

“The story itself is about people from all over, coming to a place where there’s the promise their wishes could be granted, so it felt organic and natural for it to be a multicultural Kingdom. It’s a fantasy Kingdom but it’s inspired by that Mediterranean region because back in medieval times, people really coexisted there. It’s between continents. It’s between the south of Europe and the north of Africa.”

“We started to build stuff from there [and] Asha was a very important character for us because in a way, she represents all of us because we have our hopes and dreams. [Therefore] we wanted her to be very accessible and we found that in Ariana DeBose, who is absolutely amazing. She’s very down to earth, is a very sparky person [with] a sparkling personality. A lot of Asha to the table.”

WISHES DO COME TRUE – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) is a sharp-witted idealist who lives in Rosas—a kingdom where wishes really do come true. Helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” features original songs by Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and musician Benjamin Rice. The epic animated musical opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

During early development, filmmakers also discussed the return of the classic Disney villain. There are a few categories of villains. There are ones that want to gain power—like Jafar or Ursula. There are villains who want to retain the power they have—like Maleficent. They wanted that kind of villain—one the audience would recognize as a villain from early on, someone audiences would love to hate, someone like Magnifico.

Of course, the king wasn’t the only character inspired by Disney’s legacy. Stars’ role in the studio’s history was made clear when Buck kicked off his efforts. Research including with pinning up a frame from each film—even some of the shorts. This helped remind everyone the breadth of Disney films—different styles, different eras. As they looked more and more at those images, they saw people or animals wishing on stars. It became clear what this movie should be about, and that was about wishing on a star.

The character itself is also a nod to the past—it went through many iterations before filmmakers found the perfect representation. They wanted to convey the energy and hope and light in the simplest and purest way. Therefore,
Star shouldn’t talk—it’s so much more effective as a pantomime character. This is something that Disney has done so well throughout its history. Audiences fall in love with these visual characters—they can give them their own voice. We all need a little Star in our life.

They also did a ton of research on their own library of films and on Walt Disney himself, asking who he was, what inspired him, what kind of leader he was. They even looked into his childhood on the farm in Marceline, Missouri. Some stories suggest baby animals on the farm occasionally were dressed up, which inspired their pajama-wearing goat, Valentino.

DANCING CHICKENS – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” Asha’s pajama-wearing goat Valentino makes the most of the magic that accompanies a little ball of boundless energy called Star. And if that means orchestrating a performance of dancing chickens, he’s all in. Featuring the Alan Tudyk as the voice of Valentino, the epic animated musical opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

For Juan Pablo Reyes Lancaster Jones, casting the character called for a special combination. Disney wanted the return of the Disney villain in this movie. They couldn’t have the 100th anniversary movie and not have it, but because of the story, he had to be incredibly charismatic, and the audience sees him descend into madness throughout the movie to reveal his true colors and become really terrifying at the end. “Chris Pine really gave us all of that with like an incredibly singing voice. Magnifico has that personality that makes people trust him, and the actor chosen to play him needed to deliver on the complexity of being both charming and ultimately a complex villain,” he says. “The moment Chris Pine came up as a possibility, the moment everyone heard his voice—it just matched that image and the complexity of the role.”

Filmmakers also did a deep dive, exploring the Animation Research Library, which houses the artistic heritage of Walt Disney Animation Studios. “We analyzed the evolution of Disney animation—looking at technology, the look and the style of the movies that utilized the multi-plane camera, when the Xerographic Era came to be, CAPS [Computer Animation Production System developed in the late 1980s], the onset of CG—all of those things—with special attention to the style of the animation.”

The look of the film’s innovative visual watercolor storybook style, brought to life through CG, evokes watercolor paintings that inspired the studios’ earliest films like 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1940’s Pinocchio and 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. It was their intention to go back to what inspired Walt himself—the artists, the illustrators, the watercolor-storybook style and the way they frame those illustrations.

The look captures a stunning hand-drawn aesthetic with an illustrative watercolor feel including line-work, layered compositions and even paper texture that’s evocative of a painting—all created with the vast technological abilities CG has to offer. “When we figured out this movie had to be a fairy tale, we looked at our first fairytales like Snow White and Pinocchio and saw those beautiful watercolor backgrounds they created back in the day. [We] wanted to bring that into this. [We wanted] to bring tribute to those movies. [But] the art team with our technology team really wanted that look to be pushed into the future, so we needed to be fresh and match the characters to those beautiful backgrounds. All of the movie is done through computer animation with the flavor of the of the watercolor backgrounds. Our artists worked really hard to make sure every sequence had its own identity. While also making it cohesive as a whole.”

STAR TURN – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” Asha makes a wish so powerful that it is answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. The all-new musical-comedy is helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) and Fawn Veerasunthorn (“Raya and the Last Dragon”), produced by Peter Del Vecho (“Frozen,” “Frozen 2”) and co-produced by Juan Pablo Reyes (“Encanto”). “Wish” opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Fans have the chance to be some of the first to see Disney’s Wish during special Early Access Screenings this Saturday, November 18th. Screenings will take place in 750 theaters across the country. Tickets are available now.

The soundtrack for Wish releases Friday, November 17th, making the Early Access Screenings the first-place fans can see all of the music from the film come to life. Songs written by singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and producer/songwriter/musical Benjamin Rice and feature performances from Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose as Asha and Chris Pine as Magnifico.

Wish celebrates 100 years of Disney Animation and features several nods to the legacy of the storied studio and releases wide in time for Thanksgiving on Wednesday, November 22nd.

To learn more about Wish, check out our full interview in the video above.

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