It’s pretty easy for me to remember when You Wish! premiered. In 2002, Disney Channel gave us Cadet Kelly right in the thick of Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens — we’ll get to that one in March, but of course, its stars were Hilary Duff and Christy Carlson Romano. In 2003, You Wish! was another vehicle for Disney Channel’s flagship stars: Even Stevens’ A.J. Trauth (Twitty) as Alex Lansing, and Lizzie McGuire’s Lalaine (Miranda) as Abby. 2003 brought us the final season of Even Stevens, and Lizzie would officially end in early 2004. It was neat to see A.J. Trauth and Lalaine, the “best friends” of their respective shows, play special friends in You Wish!
Trauth’s character, Alex Lansing, is fed up with his little brother, Stevie (Spencer Breslin, fresh off The Santa Clause 2). Alex and his friend James are into coins, and their favorite proprietor, Larry Pendragon, is played by Tim Reid from Sister, Sister. When Stevie is left to wait on Alex and James outside the coin shop and scarf down French fries, Larry takes pity on Stevie and gives him a special wishing coin. And there’s our proverbial wish… After a mad dash of Alex getting in trouble for losing Stevie, big bro has had it. As Alex is sulking in his bedroom, Stevie slips an apology note under Alex’s door with the coin inside. Alex uses that coin to wish away Stevie and then wakes up to a sterile, very Pottery Barn Teen-esque existence. His parents are career people who don’t remember how to make pancakes, and in this parallel universe, his former brother Stevie is a television star named Terrence Russell McCormick.
Whether you’ve seen this movie or not, you probably know the ending. Alex gets his hands on that wishing coin again, he gets his brother back, and his parents’ pancake-making powers are restored. It’s a glorious scene: Alex wakes up to his former messy room, and Lalaine’s song “You Wish” is playing. Alex is overcome with emotion as he runs outside and finds Stevie, and hugs his friends. And it’s the 2000s, so “Life is Good” by Junk plays. (I’d be remiss not to mention that Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” is a montage song in this movie.)
This is a unique DCOM, partly because it’s one of the New Zealand-filmed projects. Even if I didn’t remember all those promos of behind-the-scenes filming, I’d probably notice that the setting doesn’t quite look like America. I’ve never been to New Zealand either, though, so don’t have much to compare it to. The other reason this DCOM feels different is because it plays into fantasy more overtly than some of its early 2000s comrades. Sure, you’ve got The Luck of the Irish, The Thirteenth Year, the Halloweentown movies, and plenty of other fantasy-driven stories. But in You Wish!, Alex is specifically trying to get out of his fantasy, pretty shortly after he discovers that he’s in it. It’s an alternative universe that exists only for a finite time, it would seem.
For a brief period in the movie, the teenager likes his new, brother-less life. Here’s what gets me: he is desperate to be “cool.” I had such a poor internal understanding of cool and uncool when I was an elementary school kid watching this movie. The cool kids on television — across networks and genres — were often the mean kids, sadly. The populars, the stereotypical bullying jocks, the catty cheerleaders, the spoiled rich kids. That happens here, and Alex is immersed in it. He becomes one of them. Just what he always wanted, until he realizes how ridiculous it all is and wants his old, rollerblading, coin-collecting life back.
“Cool and uncool” is a thread you’ll see crop up with many of these movies, and part of that comes with the times. I’ll be interested to see how the coolness variable grows or shifts by era. In this movie, for example, Alex stands by and watches his old best friend, James, being bullied. The same way Alex used to be bullied.
One other curiosity to note is that Stevie never completely disappears, since he lives in the alternate universe as a kid TV star. Alex and Stevie/Terrence actually bond in the midst of Alex’s struggle to return to reality. Lalaine’s character, Abby, even agrees to help Alex find his way back, and they have a cute little discussion about whether they were friends or boyfriend/girlfriend in the before times.
Overall, this was an enjoyable movie to revisit. I love Paul Hoen’s directing, I enjoy Richard Marvin’s score, and I’m a fan of the core cast. I stumbled upon the website of Jackie French Koller, the author who wrote the book this movie was based on. It’s so sweet that she got to visit the set and meet some of the cast and crew while You Wish! was in production. On her site, she notes that the book and the movie were “VERY different.” I haven’t yet read the book, If I Had One Wish. There will be many films in this yearlong project that are based on books, so I might need to do some reading!
Finally, I suppose the moral of the story is, be careful what you wish for; don’t take your loved ones for granted; be grateful for what you have. A good message.