Film

Review: Animated Wonder Park Lacks Both Director, Inspiration

For a film that attempts to celebrate creativity and the power of imagination, the animated film Wonder Park is about as uninspired as you can get. This is the sort of pandering kids movie that thinks using the word “splendiferous” repeatedly throughout the film somehow conveys joy and fantastical whimsy, when in fact the entire proceeding feels like a creatively stripped-down version of Inside Out, featuring a young girl going through troubled times and using an imaginary amusement park as a coping mechanism. The idea on paper is actually fairly solid, but as fleshed out by writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, the film feels sanitized, uninspired and forgettable. (It should be noted that the film is being released without a director’s name attached, after original director Dylan Brown’s name was removed when he was accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct in early 2018.)

Wonder Park

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Wonder Park tells the story of June (voiced by Brianna Denski), who has spent most of her childhood working with her mother (Jennifer Garner) creating and building an imaginary amusement park in her bedroom. Said park is operated by a group of talking animals, including a bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), a warthog named Greta (Mila Kunis), a porcupine named Steve (John Oliver), and the leader, the chimp Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz). Also listen for characters voiced by Ken Jeong and Kenan Thompson as animals I can’t remember because the movie was too boring for me to care.

The one place Wonder Park does excel is in its visualization of the park itself. June imagines some pretty incredible rides and draws them out on paper at home, but in her imaginary play land, the rides become amazing feats of architecture that defy every law of physics. But they are animated on such a scale and in such detail that it’s difficult not to be impressed from a purely artistic perspective. But that’s more or less where the praise ends and the weird manipulation begins.

Early in the film, June’s mom goes away somewhere to get over an unnamed, mystery illness (I’m guessing she’s a meth addict, but it’s probably something boring like cancer), leaving the girl with her equally supportive father (Matthew Broderick), who wants to cheer June up even as he knows he’s fighting a losing battle when his wife’s prognosis is a bit of a question mark. In frustration, June trashes the homemade elements of her amusement park, but later she discovers its imaginary remnants and works with her animal friends to build things back up and make everything splendiferous (ugh).

There’s really nothing special or particularly original about Wonder Park. The jokes are corny, the themes are obvious, and the execution is listless. As I said, the animation is solid but in the context of this story, it serves as little more than distraction—something to stare at while the nothing plot drifts along and bores us into submission. For a film whose screenplay feels like it was written in ALL-CAPS on neon purple paper, Wonder Park is remarkably joyless. It’s as blatant and forced an attempt to be as positive and cheery as a movie could be, and it can’t even get that right, largely due to many examples of questionable parenting, the aforementioned disease-of-the-week subplot, and zero new ideas to be found.

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