Wish finally revives the classic Disney villain — but he’s missing something vital

When Disney revealed that its 2023 animated movie Wish would have an actual, literal big bad, a certain conglomerate of hardcore Disney fans rejoiced. For the past decade, Disney movies have avoided traditional baddies, but King Magnifico — whose whole schtick is that he’s lying to his people for his own gain while using dark, forbidden magic — seemed like a return to form. With a charismatic performance by Chris Pine, complete with a big villain song and an overwhelming ego, he’s a verifiable checklist of favorite Disney villain tropes.

…Which is probably exactly why his arc feels so empty.

[Ed. note: This post contains significant spoilers for Disney’s Wish.]

Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

For decades, Disney was known more for its villains than its heroes. But the studio has largely replaced traditional villains with surprise twists, like Frozen’s Hans, or more abstract sources of conflict, like generational trauma in Encanto or entrenched bureaucratic prejudice in Elemental. Some fans have made it clear that they want a revival of Disney villains in the mode of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula the Sea Witch, The Lion King’s Scar, and Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent: cackling baddies with dramatic monologues and catchy songs, who plot against the hero from the get-go.

But Magnifico doesn’t get to be a distinctive bad guy like his predecessors, because every one of his character traits comes from a cooler Disney villain who did it better the first time. He thinks he’s the hottest shit — so does Gaston. He thinks the people of his kingdom don’t appreciate him, like Jafar. He wants more power and control, like Scar. He’s openly lying about helping others while tying them into contracts that only benefit him, like Ursula.

It’s not that Disney villains aren’t allowed to have similar personalities. There are only so many family-friendly motivations you can give a big bad, so sometimes Disney villains overlap. But Magnifico is a little bit of everyone, without much flavor of his own. None of his personality traits are actually defining. He’s hoarding the most treasured personal wishes of his land’s people and only granting the ones he deems “safe” for his kingdom and his rule, but his motives for this scheming are scattered.

There are hints of a tragic backstory that’s never fully explored, beyond indications that it makes him extra cautious about the outside world. He seems to be genuinely worried about the consequences that “bad” wishes could have on his country, Rosas. He also loves his position of power and is obsessed with himself. He thinks he deserves even more respect and acclaim than he already receives from his adoring populace. He’s operating with a bunch of different motivations, but the filmmakers don’t spend long enough on any one of them to really define Magnifico.

King Magnifico (Chris Pine), the royal villain in Disney’s animated movie Wish, belts his heart out on his villain song “This Is the Thanks I Get” with his eye closed, head thrown back, and arms held out to the sides, as an honor guard of black suits of armor holding pikes kneels on both sides of him, raising their palms in respect Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

101 Dalmatians’ Cruella de Vil may be the most one-note Disney villain in the studio’s century-long history, but we know who she is and what she wants, which makes it easy to believe from the get-go that she will do anything to get herself a coveted puppy-skin coat. When she resorts to kidnapping a litter of Dalmatians, it makes sense!

But Magnifico’s motivations are everywhere. And none of them are built up enough to really sell his full push over the edge. It never really feels plausible that he’s evil enough to turn to forbidden dark magic in order to further his goals.

To answer that logical hiccup, the filmmakers decided to embody that forbidden magic in a plot device that corrupts him to the point of no return. Once he does use this plot device, he becomes a bit more of the unhinged, single-focus, cackling Disney villain we know and love. But the escalation from jerkish yet generally well-meaning leader to evil cackling sorcerer with glowing green eyes comes so abruptly that it’s jarring. He simply opens a spooky book, which we’re told over and over again is Bad and Forbidden. Once he reads it, he literally starts crushing hopes and dreams in order to maintain his hold over the kingdom.

Having multiple, possibly conflicting motives is normally the mark of an interesting, faceted character. But the traditional Disney villains, the one hardcore fans go gaga for, are usually one-note. Their over-the-top theatricality and dedication to their missions are fun! They’re easy to understand and root against, thanks to their single-minded obsessions, whether it’s taking over the Pridelands, making a coat out of puppies, or just being petty AF about not being invited to a christening.

maleficent Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Magnifico has sprinklings of something different. He has a compelling relationship with his wife, who appears to be a good person who does love him. We unfortunately don’t learn much about her, or about their relationship, but the fact that she sees something good in him and still tries to steer him to the right path before giving up indicates that there is (or was) something else to him besides broad villainy. He has motivations beyond being evil just for fun — that vague but terrible event in his past that drives him to hoard wishes. A tragic backstory doesn’t excuse shitty behavior, but it at least suggests a little depth. Escalating Magnifico’s motives with more nuance, instead of a handy-dandy evil-making plot device, would’ve gone a long way in actually exploring the themes of the movie.

So much of Wish revolves around plucky protagonist Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose) getting upset that Magnifico robbed his citizens of their choices and individuality. Having him doomed by some outside factor instead of by his own increasingly deplorable, desperate attempts to maintain the status quo feels like an incomplete arc, especially since the filmmakers don’t really interrogate the origins or purpose of their plot device.

Wish potentially could have offered a thread about how Magnifico’s evil book robbing him of his choices mirrors what he’s done to other people for years, but the movie skims over that parallel. The Big Evil Book of Making People Evil exists just to make sure Magnifico gets to have an epic Disney villain death, not to tackle the movie’s greater questions about autonomy and imbalance between leadership and oppression.

The movie would take on a more interesting and satisfying theme if Magnifico realized that his own selfish desires didn’t necessarily speak to the rest of humanity. His original drive was to protect his new kingdom, but along the way, his own desire for safety and control corrupted him.

King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) in the animated Disney movie Wish grins evilly as he holds his hands out to three floating, glowing blue balls in a dark room Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Disney pulled off a similar arc recently, and more resonantly, with Encanto. Abuela isn’t a villain in the classic Disney sense, but for part of the film, she functions as one to the protagonist, Mirabel. Abuela’s control over her family, and the autocratic decisions she makes that hurt and alienate them, all stems from her trauma. Encanto works so well because Mirabel is able to understand her motives, but also confront her with the harm she’s doing. Together, they fix their family’s problems by making active, thoughtful choices.

If Magnifico recognized that dreams and wishes aren’t inherently dangerous, and that his drive to protect the world has turned him into something the world needs protection from, Wish would have so much more nuance. It would also create a story where Asha could affirm that wishes are worth pursuing, even if they might be dangerous — a more complex and profound message than the idea that everyone’s wishes should be granted, no matter what they want.

But not every villain needs a redemptive arc. Even keeping Magnifico as a villain could still have led to a satisfying story, if it felt more motivated, and without the “dark magic corruption” angle that flattens his choices and eliminates his options for growth or depth. His desire to protect his people could have more obviously morphed into a desire to maintain his power and influence, and to push back against the protagonists’ collective power with his own wish to rule. But for that arc to land, we’d need to see more of it: more of his own desperate decisions, his own wish to hold on to his power, instead of an evil book doing all the villainy for him.

Wish is now streaming on Disney Plus, is available for digital purchase through Amazon and Vudu, and is available on 4K Blu-ray at Walmart.

Via

Leave a Comment

NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ NcdeQ