It feels like there’s a lot of potential for films based around theme parks. You could get a lot out of watching characters bounce around different sections of the park, given the variety the setting naturally provides. Wonder Park makes a good enough case for how well the concept applies to an animated feature, particularly one so steeped in imagination. A fantastical theme park means letting open the gates for a variety of ideas to come pouring through. While a bit too slight overall, Wonder Park does well to deliver an enjoyable vision of what a magical theme park come to life could look like.
The film revolves around Cameron “June” Bailey (voiced by Brianna Denski), an imaginative 10-year old who has spent much of her childhood designing Wonderland (yes, this makes the movie’s title all the more confusing), with help from her mother (Jennifer Garner). Tragedy soon strikes, leaving June with little imagination left to continue coming up with ideas for Wonderland, up until a chance event finds her entering the actual park for real.
There she meets all the talking animal friends she had imagined, including Boomer the blue bear (Ken Hudson Campbell), Greta the boar (Mila Kunis), Steve the porcupine (John Oliver), and Gus and Cooper, the beavers (Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong). Realizing the park isn’t what it used to be, June will work with her animal friends to bring Wonderland back to life.
As far as plots go, Wonder Park isn’t showing the audience anything new. I specifically kept thinking of some of Don Bluth’s animated films, as far as watching a young hero find the key necessary to restore the balance. It’s a proven formula, but it does work to set up a journey. Given the use of a theme park as the central location for the bulk of the film, the journey does have a lot to offer visually.
Standard ideas like rollercoasters have their place here, but there is fun in seeing new spins on merry-go-rounds come into play, let alone some genuinely unique ideas like a zero-g ride, or one that has kids setting in a globe and having it launched through the air and caught on the other side of the park. It makes no physical sense in the real world, but that’s the wonder of animation.
Coming out of Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies, I won’t say this film is anywhere near the level of Rango, which had a strange and wonderfully realized animation style, but the detail work is there. Character designs feel a bit bland, with Steve and Boomer feeling like the standouts as far as some of the better-realized personas, but I can’t say I wasn’t engaged. Perhaps it has to do with some of the trouble this film had in getting to theaters.
After multiple delays, Wonder Park is finally getting its theatrical release, though notably without a credited director. That in mind, it does feel like the shift in filmmakers had an impact. Regardless of the work to make a successful animated feature from a visual standpoint, it does have a critical issue that feels like more of a complete rewrite regarding one key aspect of the film. As a result, the result of the journey taken feels negated by its ending. June may learn a thing or two during her travels, but it seems like a crucial message has been lost in favor of steering the film clear of darker territory.
Now it’s not as if I need a kid-friendly animated film to favor dour storytelling ideas to drive the plot. However, it does feel notably strange to have a character acting a certain way, going through a certain kind of adventure, and then ending on a note that doesn’t quite click with all that came before it. Perhaps this is a story to be told another day, as Wonder Park is set to launch an animated TV series serving as a sequel to what is seen in the film (not unlike Nickelodeon’s Jimmy Neutron).
Whatever may have happened behind the scenes, there still is a decent enough animated adventure here. It has a good amount of humor, the voice cast serves the movie well, and it’s fast-paced enough to keep an audience entertained. There may have been a bit of compromise in the story that is being told, but I found enough to be satisfied by. Plus, much of the threat in Wonderland comes as a result of evil toys known as Chimpanzombies, a fitting dig at the inherent merchandizing that comes from these sorts of films. That’s a gag I can get behind.