Wonder Park was definitely lacking in the wonder department. The trailers make it seem like this is a cute animated story about the wonders of a child’s imagination, which the movie itself briefly hits the mark within the first five minutes but after that, it is very heavy-handed in its delivery (Especially when you consider this is a film aimed at children). Full disclosure, I’m a 22-year-old and I very much enjoy watching children’s films, when they’re good, this is nowhere near what I would classify as a good children’s film however.
Normally I would mention the director of a film at this point but officially this role was left uncredited. Dylan Brown, a former Pixar animator in his directorial debut, was fired near the end of production after an investigation into what the studio claimed was a complaint of “inappropriate and unwanted conduct”. It’s always fun to hear these kinds of things when looking into kid’s films (sarcasm).
Focusing back on the movie itself, this was definitely not one I enjoyed, would ever watch again, or would ever recommend to anyone, child or otherwise. The first five or so minutes gave me what I expected, a goofy film about the wonders of a child’s imagination and the wacky things this could lead to. It then drops to a very heavy place and stays there for almost the majority of the runtime and, in my opinion, never resolves it properly. I’d say Wonder Park is trying very hard to reach the same benchmark as Inside Out but misses it by miles.
Wonder Park opens with June (voiced by Sofia Mali & Brianna Denski) and her mum (Jennifer Garner) imaging the magical theme park “Wonderland” together, making up impossible rides for Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz) the brilliant chimpanzee, who is in charge of their imaginary park, to create with his magical pen. All pretty standard kid stuff.
The movie takes a dark turn with June’s mum developing a mysterious but serious illness that means she has to leave for specialised treatment, this would be traumatic for anyone to go through, child or not. Wonder Park makes it very obvious that June is not dealing with it well which in turn affects the imaginary theme park she made up as she is no longer playing with it.
After escaping from the math camp her well-meaning dad (Matthew Broderick) sent her to, June stumbles across a seemingly real “Wonderland” theme park that she thought only existed in her imagination. But surprise surprise “Wonderland” is in trouble with darkness slowly taking the park over in the form of “chimpan-zombies” (yes, that is legitimately what they are called in the movie) that are tearing the park apart and feeding pieces of it to the darkness. It’s pretty obvious that this darkness is June’s own feelings about her mother leaving, the loneliness and trauma she now feels. The film kind of ends with these feelings never really being dealt with properly,
Most of the scenes in “Wonderland” come across as quite dark and I wouldn’t say at all child-friendly, with “chimpan-zombies” chanting and chasing after the park’s animal mascots and June pretty much trying to kill them. And near the end, there is a weird and unnecessary cross-species relationship between the porcupine, Steve (John Oliver), and the warthog, Greta (Mila Kunis), which the movie did not need in any way.
The real thing that bugs me with this film, is that it’s called Wonder Park, but the park is never once referred to as this (Or at least so rarely, I missed it), it’s called “Wonderland” the entire time. I’m not too sure if they titled it differently due to legal reasons or something else. But for whatever reason, the words “wonder park” were never said during the entirety of the film which just really irked me.
All in all, it is a well animated movie, I just didn’t enjoy the majority of the movie itself. It felt like an Inside Out wannabe that missed the mark. It tried to tackle difficult emotions that children may feel but, in my opinion, never resolved or showed how to deal with them properly in a real-life situation. At times the visuals were quite dark and, I felt, not really child-friendly (those “chimpan-zombies” were lowkey terrifying and I’m sure led to some kids in the cinema having nightmares).