It’s interesting to see how child actors pop up after their time in the spotlight. Whether it’s tragic or because they’ve beaten the traditional train wreck route, like Peter Ostrum of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” fame, who became a veterinarian, or “Karate Kid” star Ralph Macchio aging gracefully from teen heartthrob to “Cobra Kai” notoriety. But no child actor has as much of a following as Mara Wilson.
Best known for her performances in movies like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Matilda,” Mara Wilson has had a small but interesting filmography. Balancing iconic performances like Matilda with more obscure work as in the case of the underrated guilty pleasure “Thomas and Magic Railroad,” Wilson has grown into her own and embraced something of a cult following. One of the films that elevated this following was the 1997 film “A Simple Wish,” and a review from internet personality the Nostalgia Critic. So, does it hold up after all these years?
Wilson plays Annabel, a young girl living in New York City with her older brother Charlie (Francis Capra) and her father, Oliver (Robert Pastorelli), an aspiring Broadway actor with his eyes on a starring role in a production inspired by A Tale of Two Cities. One night, Annabel is visited by Murray (Martin Short), a male fairy godmother who’s new to the job. What starts as a wish for her father to get the lead role, puts Annabel, Murray, and Charlie on a race against the clock to reverse a backfired spell and defeat the evil witch Claudia (Kathleen Turner) and her minion Boots (Amanda Plummer) as she steals the wands of every Fairy Godmother in the world.
The cast does a solid job, with Robert Pastorelli and Francis Capra giving solid performances. Kathleen Turner is a fun villain; her banter with Martin Short and Amanda Plummer is a joy as she plays the character like a cat toying its prey. But then you have the two actors with top billing; Mara Wilson and Martin Short. As child actors go, Wilson does a solid job; she brings the right amount of whimsy and wonder without being too saccharine. The scenes with her and Pastorelli are legitimately heartwarming; you can buy that they’re a real father and daughter. Short’s performance is a mix between well-timed slapstick and gags that feel like the class clown trying too hard. But when he’s good, he’s good.
There’s nothing too special with the story. It’s a simple kid’s movie with plenty of interesting moments throughout it. But the concept of fairy godmothers existing among this organization where they operate and network a la “Fairly Oddparents” has a lot of potential. With more of the other ideas presented, this could have been a good opportunity for a show on Disney Channel.
As I watched the end credits, listening to “Sh’ Boom” by the Chords and watching Short strolling down the street, I felt like this was a perfect representation of my mood near the end. Overall, it’s a sweet movie with a solid cast, interesting ideas, and something I’d check out on Disney+. It also shows how good of an actress Mara Wilson is.