Wonder Park, 2019.
Written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec.
Featuring the voice talents of Brianna Denski, Matthew Broderick. Jennifer Garner, Sofia Mali, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Norbert Leo Butz, and Ken Hudson Campbell.
Wonder Park tells the story of a magnificent amusement park where the imagination of a wildly creative girl named June comes alive.
Admittedly, Wonder Park is not what I feared (lowbrow humor involving talking animals that solely exists for parents to bring their bored children to, quality be damned), but barely being decent isn’t exactly much better. Serving as a pilot to a future Nickelodeon cartoon TV show, the narrative tells the story of a young girl named June (newcomer Brianna Denski) suffering from a bout of depression at the hands of her loving mother coming down with an undisclosed life-threatening illness that forces her to live elsewhere during treatment for quite some time. More specifically, this temporary but prolonged and uncertain parental loss eliminates her strong imagination, causing a spell of darkness (and tiny but destructive creatures known as Chimpan-zombies) to cloud over the fantasy world of Wonderland, subsequently sucking away it’s fun.
Curiously enough, the film only refers to the amusement park as Wonderland, which is apparently a real place somewhere in Canada once owned by the film’s distributor, Paramount. So if someone told me the only reason Wonder Park exists is to draw some attention in that direction, I would believe it. The filmmakers (there’s another crazy story here, as the original director Dylan Brown was replaced over sexual misconduct allegations) certainly don’t seem interested in exploring the cruel realities of unwell mental health beyond rote light versus dark analogies. Naturally, this is a shame, but one has to wonder if rightfully replacing Dylan Brown with three other co-directors was responsible for the finished product ending up flat and forgettable.
Reason being is that Wonder Park does come out of the gate focused and moderately emotional. June and her mother (Jennifer Garner) have been playing make-believe with this fantastical amusement park ever since she was a young child, but more importantly, her mother encourages wielding that imagination. June is so exceptional at envisioning ideas (and is a child prodigy) that it’s no surprise it comes off as more of a superpower that occasionally gets her in trouble, but mom is always right there to reel in the reckless behavior and channel it into a far more stimulating and productive mental exercise. Without mom, June commits the unthinkable and burns the amusement park layout, and it’s not because no one else cares (she has plenty of equally nerdy friends and a caring father played by Matthew Broderick), but the relentless pain from being separated.
There’s no bond like a mother and daughter, and the movie somewhat tries to make it a point to express this, but like everything else, it all becomes ignored in favor of generic action-oriented set pieces around the nearly destroyed Wonderland. Yes, to the surprise of no one, June eventually finds her way into the world of her own creation as a coping mechanism, except nothing is done with the concept besides talking animals and the aforementioned attempts at excitement that mostly feel like Nickelodeon stumbled across a trash bin outside Pixar’s studio containing rejected settings from Inside Out.
Speaking of the animals, they range from a brightly colored blue bear named Boomer (played by Ken Hudson Campell in the US version and Tom Baker in the UK) who repeatedly keeps briefly entering hibernation (probably the only funny running joke in the movie), a monkey that apparently can telepathically communicate with June to listen for ideas and draw them into existence with a magic marker, a hog played by Mila Kunis that is there simply to doubt June’s ability to restore the park, a porcupine played by John Oliver that switches between amusing and annoying, and a pair of really annoying gophers played by Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong.
Forget the fact that the screenwriters (Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec) find the laziest method possible to transport June from reality to fantasy, Wonder Park simply goes through the motions as mindless entertainment for children when it’s clear the movie was originally intended to be something more. Or maybe it wasn’t and no one bothered to flesh out the story beyond an intriguing, if recently familiar, concept. Outside of a zero gravity segment and a highly inventive use for bendy straws, there’s not really much here that will stick. At the very least, there is something to be admired in that the movie is preaching using imagination rather than functioning as another way of lecturing children on the virtues of being themselves, but the characters and chase sequences are simply far too cookie-cutter to register as anything but 86 minutes passing by. The human characters especially deserve more; there’s so much to explore regarding imagination and depression that would prove useful to both adults and kids, not to mention there is a talented cast to provide an emotional wallop. Instead, it all goes to waste like leftover unbought concessions.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com