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The Essentials: 'Wish' star Ariana DeBose shares her Disney movie favorites

Ariana DeBose shares her Disney favorites for USA TODAY's The Essentials.
Ariana DeBose shares her Disney favorites for USA TODAY's The Essentials.

In a weekly series, USA TODAY’s The Essentials, celebrities share what fuels their lives. We're kicking off with Ariana DeBose, Usher, Dove Cameron, Gerry Turner and Meg Ryan.

Ariana DeBose's favorite Disney character is the one who's pretty much her.

The Oscar-winning "West Side Story" star voices Asha, the big-hearted teen lead of the Disney animated musical "Wish" (in theaters now), a culmination of the Mouse House's 100th anniversary. To help her people, she wishes on a star – which takes magical, precocious form as Asha's sidekick – and stands up to her home's villainous king (played by Chris Pine).

"A lot of Asha's based on me, which is weird and wonderful," says DeBose, 32. "I loved how fearless and free Asha felt. She's genuinely excited to spend time with the people that she loves. She's genuinely excited to learn new things. I'm very much like that. And I also acknowledge I'm not good at everything. So it's fun to be challenged."

A Tony- and Emmy-nominated actress and singer, DeBose got her start on the TV series "So You Think You Can Dance," was one of the original cast members in Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton," and in 2022 made the Time 100, which honors the most influential people of the year.

DeBose shares her Disney essentials:

'Tarzan' and 'Aladdin' gave a young Ariana DeBose the feels

Ariana DeBose fell in love with singing after watching the 1992 Disney classic "Aladdin."
Ariana DeBose fell in love with singing after watching the 1992 Disney classic "Aladdin."

After watching 1999’s "Tarzan," "I really understood my emotions," DeBose says. "It's also when I discovered that Glenn Close has one of the most beautiful speaking voices because she plays the mother gorilla in that film. So amazing." But 1992's "Aladdin" also ranks high since it was "one of the first Disney films I ever saw, and that sort of inspired a love for singing."

INTERVIEW: Ariana DeBose talks Disney's 'Wish,' being a 'big softie' and her Oscar's newest neighbor

Her go-to comfort Disney movie? 'Hercules'

The 1997 fantasy comedy features one of her favorite Disney songs, "Go the Distance." "It's not really an 'I want' song, but he wants to go the distance so I guess it qualifies,” DeBose says. "I'm obsessed with mythology as well, and that film always makes me feel good because it is another celebration of the triumph of good over evil and I'm always here for it."

Ariana DeBose is all about the Disney Park experience

DeBose's first memory of visiting a Disney theme park is still vivid in her mind – mostly because she hadn’t visited any of them until her adulthood. Two years ago, she co-hosted "The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration" at Disney World with Derek and Julianne Hough. "That was bananas to me because, No. 1, I had never really hosted anything before, so I was learning how to read on a prompter and do this job. And also like, 'Wow, Space Mountain! Look at Epcot!' It was very surreal."

She's a total Marvel superhero fan girl

Ariana DeBose, a fan of the Marvel superhero shows, attends the U.K. premiere of Disney's "Wish" in London.
Ariana DeBose, a fan of the Marvel superhero shows, attends the U.K. premiere of Disney's "Wish" in London.

When it comes to non-animated Disney movies, DeBose picks the Marvel Cinematic Universe as her fave over the "Star Wars" galaxy, especially the Disney+ TV series. “They push a lot of really interesting narratives," she says. "I'm a fan." (Her superhero debut will be in Sony's Spider-Man-centric Marvel universe with next year's "Kraven the Hunter.")

'Wish' movie review: Ariana DeBose is a powerhouse in a musical that owns its Disney-ness

Ariana DeBose feels close to the characters of 'Mulan,' 'Pocahontas'

The relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith in "Pocahontas" spoke to Ariana DeBose when she was growing up.
The relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith in "Pocahontas" spoke to Ariana DeBose when she was growing up.

Growing up in North Carolina, DeBose saw "aspects of myself" in many characters, including Mulan, Tiana (from "The Princess and the Frog") and especially Pocahontas. "I am a multiracial human being – my mother is white, my father is Afro-Latino Puerto Rican – and seeing a couple like John Smith and Pocahontas, that sort of helped me rationalize that moment in my life. I didn't have a Grandmother Willow, but I did have a fabulous nana. Also, willow trees are my favorite."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ariana DeBose sings at Kennedy Center Honors: Disney star's essentials