Wonder Park has a wonderfully touching message about sadness and fear set in a wildly imaginative world, with a still rather unremarkable story.
Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies join forces on the 3D-animated children's film Wonder Park, the story of a young girl - 10-year-old June Bailey (Brianna Denski) - who's fascinated with building her imaginary amusement park, only to stumble across a very real and very run down version of that park in the woods one day. The fantasy-adventure is written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (the same duo that wrote Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its sequel Out of the Shadows) from a story they crafted with Robert Gordon (Men In Black II). It's a fine film altogether, if also one that's lacking in certain key areas. Wonder Park has a wonderfully touching message about sadness and fear set in a wildly imaginative world, with a still rather unremarkable story.
While much of Wonder Park takes place in the fictional Wonderland amusement park, the premise of the film hinges on June's relationship with her mom (Jennifer Garner), since they dreamed up the park together. However, when June's mom gets sick and has to go away, June packs up the model of her park and, in a moment of emotion, throws the blueprints she and her mom drew into the fire. It's the emotional core of Wonder Park and it works incredibly well because the movie takes the time to develop the supportive, loving relationship between June and her mom. Much of the first act is dedicated to establishing their relationship and how it intertwines with June's love of Wonderland. And because that dynamic is so well-developed, June's turn away from Wonderland to a more anxious mindset is all the more believable.
When Wonder Park actually gets to the park, though, the movie trades in real emotional heart for wacky sidekicks and a meandering story that eventually returns to the main themes of the movie. When June stumbles upon Wonderland, she meets real-life versions of the park's talking animals that she created: the welcome bear Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), the safety officer porcupine Steve (John Oliver), the wild boar Greta (Mila Kunis) and the beaver brothers Cooper (Ken Jeong) and Gus (Kenan Thompson). However, the group is missing the park's ride creator, Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), and they're constantly on the run from the Chimpanzombies who are destroying the park and feeding pieces of it into an ominous dark cloud in the sky. What unfolds from there is an adventure through the park that takes June through various rides and sections of the park she created. It's an entertaining enough story that reflects June's real-world problems in largely predictable ways, but gets stronger when it circles back to June's character arc.
As for the characters that populate Wonderland, they're brought to life well enough by the voice actors, but they're really just a hodgepodge of stock animal sidekicks that have appeared in animated films for years. They each have one personality trait that's played for laughs - Boomer's narcolepsy-like sleep disorder, Steve's safety consciousness, and Gus and Cooper's slapstick-style fighting. In the case of Greta, she's largely used to create conflict between June and the animals and, again, that's the entirety of her character development. As a result, Wonder Park is much more focused on June's story (well, when the movie doesn't distract from June's story with some zany hijinks), but her animal sidekicks are forgettable and blur together with better developed supporting characters from different movies.
Ultimately, Wonder Park is an innocuous children's movie with a good lesson for kids - and adults - about not letting fear and sadness change who you are or force you to give up on your dreams. Further, the relationship between June and her mother is truly touching and will definitely tug at the heartstrings - perhaps more for the adults in the audience than their kids. As for the film's young viewers, Wonder Park features plenty of colorful, imaginative amusement park ideas to inspire awe, and the film's brisk 85-minute runtime will help to keep them engaged. Altogether, Wonder Park is entertaining enough for any age to keep them interested in what happens to June and Wonderland, but it's by no means a must-see animated movie.
In fact, the world of Wonder Park may be even more exciting than the story of the film itself. With a carousel made of flying fish that actually fly and a massive slide made of bendy straws (just to name a few of the imaginative attractions), one of Wonder Park's true strengths is the potential of its world. Perhaps it's a result of Nickelodeon planning to launch a Wonder Park television series later this year, but the movie never quite explores as much of Wonderland as viewers may be hoping. Thankfully, Wonder Park does have a compelling enough arc about June learning not to be ruled by fear, even if the story and world don't quite live up to their potential.
Wonder Park is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 85 minutes long and rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action.
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- Wonder Park (2019) release date: Mar 15, 2019