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The Cutesy Kids’ Movie That Shook Me To My Very Core

We definitely thought it was going to be a lot more lighthearted than it turned out.

Written by Laura Onstot
Originally Published: 
Still from the trailer for Disney's Wish

When we walked into a recent showing of Wish, my 6-year-old was happily repeating a joke she’d seen in a preview: Valentino, the goat side-kick of the main character, Asha, discovers a hidden room when he knocks down the wall with his butt. “Ooh, good find, Valentino!” Asha says. My daughter paused to make sure all eyes were on her, before delivering what was maybe the best line of the movie: “My butt found it.” She cackled. Given that the previews were lighthearted, we weren’t expecting anything too deep or dark. But as the movie began, we quickly realized it was going to contain a lot more than butt jokes. In fact, it goes to some pretty serious places — and I wasn’t prepared for how much I related to the main character’s journey.

Wish is set in the fairy tale kingdom of Rosas, governed by King Magnifico (who looks eerily like Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Mark Sloan, but is voiced by Chris Pine). When each and every citizen turns 18, they give Magnifico their wishes, which he places into bubbles for safekeeping. He promises he will protect the wishes and do his best to grant them (at periodic public wish ceremonies). They then forget their wishes — the price of the bargain.

Asha is interviewing to be King Magnifico’s new assistant as the movie starts. She asks how he decides which wishes to grant. She has an ulterior motive — her grandpa’s 100th birthday is that day, and she’s hoping she can convince the king to grant him his wish, which is to create something that inspires the younger generation. But that’s when we get the biggest catch of all: King Magnifico says he only grants wishes he’s sure will be good for the kingdom. Most of them don’t stand a chance, including Asha’s grandfather’s, as it turns out. Magnifico thinks it’s too dangerous.

She tries to convince him this isn’t right; he brushes her off. That night, she makes a wish on a star out of desperation. To her surprise, the star comes down from the sky to help her free the un-granted wishes.

Though at her very core, Asha knows she is doing the right thing, it is no fairytale. She is doubted by her friends and family and hunted by the king. When Asha sang, “Isn’t truth supposed to set you free, well why do I feel so weighed down by it?” I teared up. Her journey was one I could relate to.

As someone with PTSD, I know a lot about how to suppress painful truths, making them into stories I want to hear, rather than using an honest lens. And during my first year of treatment, I didn’t feel like the truth set me free. Instead, I felt bound by gut-wrenching memories and horrific truths. I wondered if I should just stop therapy and go back to suppressing the memories. Sure, life was dull and hopeless, but at least I wouldn’t experience the excruciating and often sharp emotions.

When Asha finally opens her eyes to the truth of what King Magnifico is doing, she’s alone. The villagers believe they have a king who keeps their wishes safe and protected. But really, they have a selfish, abusive king, one who takes away the very core of who they were and locks it up. The truth, though initially painful, allows Asha and eventually the townspeople to fight to get their wishes back. They can’t free themselves until they acknowledge they’re being abused.

Afterward, we went out to lunch and discussed the movie as a family. I asked my daughters what message they thought the movie was trying to give us. “Never trust a handsome face!” my youngest yelled, quoting the movie. “Yeah,” I thought, “especially in a bar.” My oldest tried to earn brownie points, knowing how much I like to talk about kindness: “Stand up for others when they need help?”

I paused, unsure of how deep I should take the conversation. My husband chimed in, “You are in charge of making your dreams come true, not other people. And it’s hard.” I thought back on the scene when King Magnifico has Asha tied up and is throwing her against the ground. I thought back on when she tries to share the truth with her mom and grandpa and they don’t believe her — the courage that conversation required, and the loneliness that resulted.

And I remembered my journey. Leaving therapy sessions nauseated, tears still flowing, completely spent. Doubting myself. The gaslighting that occurred when I finally gathered the courage to tell the truth. The “and it’s hard” piece of my husband's statement really resonated with me.

I didn’t have my thoughts fully formed and ended the discussion with my husband’s explanation, but after some thought, here’s what I’d tell my daughters: Life is full of trauma — everyone experiences it at some point. And that trauma will slice you to your core. You’ll begin to build a protective armor around your heart, to make sure you are never hurt that deeply again. In some cases, the armor works. But trauma has a tricky way of worming its way through our hearts, armor be damned.

Sometimes it will rob you of your wishes, or convince you your dreams are impossible. You might begin to believe that you aren’t enough, your wishes are silly, or that you don’t deserve the happiness they will bring you. Maybe you’ll believe someone else’s wishes are more important than yours (or, if you become a mother, that everyone else’s wishes are more important than yours.) You might make the mistake of believing your wish will only come true if you give someone else the power.

Some of these things are impossible to prevent. But this is what I want my daughters to know while their hearts are still young, while their purest wishes still exist at the front and center of their brains:

Your wishes are not silly. They deserve to be pursued doggedly, but there won’t be glitter in the air when you do. You won’t have a talking animal sidekick, nor will a star descend from the sky. You might need to go through hell (not around it, as I’ve learned). And I wouldn’t recommend a dress — you’re gonna get muddy. You might scrape your knees, and it’ll definitely feel, at times, like it’s you against the world.

But as Asha taught us, when we share the truth, the honest-to-god reality without changing the narrative, as brutal as it is, we are sharing the deepest part of who we are. And while some people will turn away, many will turn toward you, recognizing that your truth and your wishes are an integral part of who you are. Don’t ever give them away.

Laura Onstot writes to maintain her sanity after transitioning from a career as a research nurse to stay-at-home motherhood. In her spare time, she can be found sleeping on the couch while she lets her kids binge-watch TV. She blogs at Nomad’s Land, or you can follow her on Twitter @LauraOnstot.

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