The Walt Disney Animation Studios musical comedy Wish—in theaters Wednesday, November 22—is set in the magical kingdom of Rosas, where a sharp-witted idealist, Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose), makes a wish so powerful that it’s answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, they face the formidable King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) to save Asha’s community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.
Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, the feature film reflects an important tenet within Walt Disney Animation Studios: one generation collaborating with the next. Whereas Buck joined the studio in 1978 as a hand-drawn animator under the tutelage of Disney Legend Eric Larson, one of the studio’s famed Nine Old Men, Veerasunthorn joined the studio in 2011 as a story artist working on Frozen—the Academy Award®-winning film directed by Buck and Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios. So, given the studio’s shining legacy, teaming up to direct Wish seemed written in the stars.
“Disney has a long history of mentoring and bringing up the next generation,” Buck explains. “It all goes back to what we learned from Walt Disney—or rather, what the Nine Old Men learned from Walt, and what they shared with us—and that was his sense of storytelling and wonder, of joy and magic, of entertainment. The Nine Old Men would not say, ‘This is Walt’s sense of entertainment.’ They would just exude it, and you knew where it came from. You knew they had been inspired by Walt and that now, they were inspiring us.”
Buck, who made his directorial debut with Tarzan (1999), has worked on such films as The Fox and the Hound (1981), Frankenweenie (1984), The Little Mermaid (1989), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Pocahontas (1995), and Frozen 2 (2019), to name a few. Given the collaborative nature of the studio, he was eager to work more closely with Veerasunthorn, who contributed to the films Zootopia (2016), Moana (2016), Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018), and Frozen 2 (2019), and who most recently served as head of story for the Oscar®-nominated film Raya and the Last Dragon (2021). The feeling, of course, was mutual. “Chris has a lot of experience with animation, and I come from stories, so our experiences complement each other,” Veerasunthorn says. “I loved working with him on Frozen, and I was waiting to work with him again. Since this [directing] opportunity arose, it’s been a joy.”
The directors worked well together and learned from each other. Says Buck, “For me, it’s always about being open to new and fresh ideas—even though I’ve done this before. You’re always learning. I’d always respected Fawn when we were working together as director and story artist. Just listening to Fawn’s ideas back then, I knew in the story room that she was such an incredible thinker and artist, that she’d always dig deep into the characters and into the sequence itself. I would sit there and listen and learn from her, too.”
While making Wish, Veerasunthorn says Buck taught her how to fight for “what you’re passionate about,” as that’s where the magic lies. “Sometimes there’s a need to get things moving along, but Chris will put his foot down. He’ll say, ‘This is the way that it needs to be done.’ As a first-timer, if I would have done this by myself, there were times when I might have compromised. But seeing how he did certain things, I could just go for it and be brave. We want to tell a story that is worthy of everyone’s craft and artistry, so you have to lean into that passion—not shy away from it. You have to speak up about what you care about.”
That ethos is part of what makes the studio and its films so special—and it’s a big part of the reason why Veerasunthorn was so excited to direct Wish, a film that was a century in the making. “I love that you can reach out to anyone and ask them questions; these are the same people who worked on your favorite movies,” she says. “I love Tarzan, so working with Chris, I would say to him, ‘Tell me stories! I want to know X, Y, and Z!’ These things can happen any day of the week. Disney magic exists inside this building. When I’m talking to a younger artist and I feel their sense of excitement, it’s a two-way street. It’s not just one generation passing down their knowledge. You get inspired by the new voices that are emerging, too.”