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When you wish upon a czar


WORLD Radio - When you wish upon a czar

The big budget films Napoleon and Wish waste time and talent on trivialities

Vanessa Kirby and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from "Napoleon." Associated Press/Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Apple TV+

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, November 24th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: big movies at the box office.

Thanksgiving week tends to be a busy one for movie theaters. Many families have a tradition of going to see a movie during the holiday. But is there anything worth seeing? Here’s arts and culture editor Collin Garbarino.

COLLIN GARBARINO: Apple Studios has been burning the tech company’s cash in its pursuit of accolades and awards. Earlier this year, it spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Martin Scorsese’s historical prestige movie Killers of the Flower Moon—a movie which was never destined to make back its budget. This week, another of Apple’s ridiculously expensive historical films from a storied director arrived in theaters: Ridley Scott’s Napoleon.

NAPOLEON: Wait. Let them think they have the higher ground.

As you might expect, Napoleon tells the story of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the world’s most famous military leaders. You also might expect a certain amount of stylishness from Ridley Scott and his lead actors Joaquin Phoenix and Vannessa Kirby who play Napoleon and his wife Josephine. What you might not expect is how utterly stupid the movie is.

NAPOLEON: Send in the infantry. Take their position on the higher ground.

This is the kind of movie history buffs get excited for, but director Ridley Scott has a pretty spotty track record when it comes to the genre. His Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood are two of my least favorite movies of all time. If you love history, like I do, then you’ll hate Napoleon.

First, Joaquin Phoenix is miscast. He’s too old. The movie begins with the 49-year-old actor playing a 24-year-old Napoleon at the beginning of his career. To make matters worse, in real life, Napoleon’s wife Josephine was six years older than him, but Vannessa Kirby, who actually makes a nice Josephine, is 14 years younger than Phoenix—and she definitely looks it.

The average moviegoer will probably find the battle scenes mildly entertaining, but Ridley Scott doesn’t attempt to be historically accurate. He has Napoleon charging out at the head of the army. On impact, cannonballs inexplicably set a mast of a ship on fire. The battle scenes are pure fantasy. The keen-eyed fan of military history will be appalled to see British squares forming up and firing directly at each other. It’s all very stylish, but it’s all a lot of rubbish.

NAPOLEON: Cavalry from the west. Pierce their flanks!

The film is rated R for some brief language, gory violence, and some sexual content—though there isn’t any nudity.

Ridley Scott isn’t the filmmaker you go to for nuance, but nuance is just what’s needed when talking about Napoleon. He was complicated. And historians still argue over whether he was an enlightened military genius or merely a brutal tyrant.

This movie views everything in Napoleon’s life through the single lens of his relationship with Josephine. He isn’t brilliant, proud, and ambitious. He’s lovesick, jealous, and frustrated—and actually kind of dumb.

I also left Napoleon feeling like Scott was taking a swipe at masculinity itself, attempting to rob one of history’s most consequential men of any distinction.

Let’s move to another new movie I don’t think you should bother seeing.

AUDIO: [Asha singing]

Wish is Disney’s newest animated feature. The young heroine of Wish is Asha, voiced by Ariana Debose. She lives on the island nation of Rosas which is ruled by a benevolent sorcerer named Magnifico, voiced by Chris Pine. Asha hopes to become the sorcerer's apprentice, but she’s horrified when she learns Magnifico is nefarious rather than benevolent, stealing the wishes of his subjects.

MAGNIFICO: They give their wishes to me willingly. I make it so they forget their worries.

ASHA: You make it so they forget the most beautiful part of themselves.

With the help of the wishing star, Asha will set everything right.

Wish takes its inspiration from the idea of “wishing on a star,” which became a central theme in Disney’s marketing. And to be honest, Wish feels less like a movie and more like a marketing campaign to celebrate Disney’s 100 years of animation.

The movie follows the classic formula. We get a talking animal sidekick and six original songs. And the movie is also chock full of references and visual imagery derived from earlier Disney movies. For example, Asha has seven loyal friends who mimic Snow White’s seven dwarfs.

Sadly, the homage to Disney’s better years feels wasted because this film is so disappointing. The storyline, what little of it there is, seems to be an afterthought—a mere framework to stuff in all the references. And the songs are mere echoes of the catchy tunes from Disney’s best musicals.

One particular song sounds downright blasphemous as the characters sing about how we’re all made out of cosmic stardust and we are our own origin story.

MUSIC: [“I’m A Star”]

So we’re all our own wishing stars. And we’re obligated to never give up on our wishes, which the movie says is the most special part of our hearts. Disney’s really dialed up the devilish “follow your heart” theme to the nth degree with this one.

The animation is beautifully rendered, but in terms of engaging story and moral value, Wish is a disaster.

ASHA: [singing] So I make this wish, for us to have something more than this.

Disney fans deserved better than this.

So, it turns out there’s not much to be thankful for this week at the movies. But if you’re looking for a recent historical movie this weekend, you could cue up Jesus Revolution on Netflix. Or if you want a family-pleasing animated movie, you could try The Super Mario Bros. Movie on Peacock.

I’m Collin Garbarino.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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