Review by: Christopher Haskell
March 17, 2019
“We are the wonder in Wonderland”— June Bailey (Brianna Denski)
“Wonder Park” may entertain your six-year-old with its sleek, crisp animation, but it doesn’t come close to packing the same emotional punch as anything Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks puts out. For kids, it looks and feels enough like big studio fare to keep them enthralled, but for parents, it’s lacking. Not that there’s a requirement to pique the interest of adults, but the big animation studios seem to know how to keep the grown-ups in the room just as invested as the kids.
The crux of “Wonder Park” is the young girl June (Brianna Denski and Sofia Mali) and her imagination, which she uses to build an amusement park called Wonderland with her mother (Jennifer Garner) using drawings and models. When June’s mother is diagnosed with a severe illness and goes away for treatment, June puts the models away and closes off that part of her life, much to her father’s (Matthew Broderick) dismay.
Writers Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Robert Gordon take a crack at a tough subject matter, with a plot that deals with a sick parent from a child’s perspective. Unfortunately, the conclusion eventually feels like a cop-out. But even just brushing up against this dark material is a step in the right direction.
It’s when June stumbles upon a weathered old roller coaster car in the forest that the fun finally starts. She discovers that Wonderland isn’t entirely imaginary. But instead of the thrill park filled with rides of her ingenuity, she finds her creations in shambles. The stuffed animals that she once used to run her park are now anthropomorphic critters, living as refugees as the park gets dismantled by tiny stuffed monkeys called “Chimpanzombies.”
Her companions include a narcoleptic blue bear (Kenneth Hudson Campbell), a wild boar (Mila Kunis), a porcupine (John Oliver), a pair of beavers (Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong), and Peanut the chimpanzee (Norbert Leo Butz), the park’s mascot. June is cute, the rest, not so much.
The animals lack any real character development. Had their little quirks been established early on, their idiosyncrasies would have felt earned. Instead, it’s all a bit thrown together. That lack of development becomes most apparent in the moments that are meant to tug at your heart. A betrayal or sacrifice misses its mark when the work hasn’t been done to make those characters mean anything to the audience.
Despite weak supporting characters, at the heart of “Wonder Park,” there’s a story worth telling. Above the park, there’s a black cloud swirling. That cloud is the manifestation of June’s emotions. To fight the darkness, June must recapture a bit of her innocence and learn how to work through tough times while holding onto the best parts of herself. More animated films need to broach the subject of dealing with emotions as these are life lessons kids can use throughout their life.
On paper, “Wonder Park” reads like a twist on “Inside Out” and “Toy Story,” with a young girl coming of age while her toys come to life around her. Sadly, “Wonder Park” doesn’t reach the emotional levels of those films. It does a great job of developing a compelling and authentic little girl, but not much else. Perhaps the strong mother-daughter connection of the story will strike a particular chord for mothers and daughters, but coming from this father that took his little girl, something is lacking at the core of it all.
March 15, 2019
Robert Gordon (story)
(for some mild thematic elements and action)