It’s not often that I begin a review for a children’s animated film like this but seriously: What the f*ck did I just watch? I’ve never seen a movie - let alone a children’s movie - miss its mark as spectacularly and borderline offensively as this. This becomes even more remarkable when you factor in the list of A-list talent voicing the film — Jennifer Garner, John Oliver, Matthew Broderick, Mila Kunis, Ken Jeong, and Kenan Thompson are all onboard for this strange, sinking ship of a film, one whose production is almost as inept as its marketing.
If you’ve seen the trailer for Wonder Park, then you’ve perhaps been mildly interested in its story of a young girl who discovers an old park roller coaster car in the woods, one that propels her into a hidden magical amusement park run by silly talking animals while also being overrun by “chimpanzombies” - odd little stuffed animals come to life and bent on mayhem. It looks blandly charming, an inoffensive but forgettable tale about imagination and … whatever. Here’s what the trailer doesn’t tell you: Wonder Park is the story of June (Brianna Denski), who invents a wild, imaginary amusement park with her adoring mother (Jennifer Garner). Mom and Dad (Matthew Broderick) love to indulge her imagination, as long as it doesn’t get too wild, and their bucolic life is as perfect as can be. And then her mother gets cancer.
Yeah. Didn’t see that shit coming, did you? You know who else didn’t? Me, my son, and any of the other dozens of parents and children in the theater. It’s a damn cancer movie. June’s mom gets sick, has to go away to the hospital, and June spirals into depression and eventually packs away all of the wonderful creations she built with her mother and angrily throws out her childhood loves. Then, while running away from math camp (!) she stumbles upon a ramshackle, run-down version of the park and its animal denizens in real life, and realizes that by abandoning her imagination, she’s jeopardized Wonderland (and no, it’s not called Wonder Park, which is just one of the many odd decisions in this movie). From there, the movie gets really weird, with a bizarre series of LSD-trip-gone-bad action vignettes where June and her friends must flee the army of psychotic, armed toys who are trying to sacrifice the park to “The Darkness,” which is essentially a metaphor for June’s sadness. Or something. It’s wild, though, a crazy series of sequences that are colorful and creative, but also over-edited and far too cacophonous to ultimately be enjoyable (especially since everything in-between is… boring).
It’s strange, it’s thematically all over the place — are we fostering our children’s imagination or are we teaching them to handle their grief by sending them to … math camp? And then she runs away from math camp to find her dreams, so … math camp represents … seriously, what. the f*ck. is this movie. None of these deeper questions really matter because despite its vivid imagery and fast pace, Wonder Park is a boring, baffling wreck of a film that failed to entertain both children and adults in the theater I was in.
So I’ll wrap this up by telling you three things that are all you need to know: 1) my son, an avid movie fan who will watch anything, fell asleep for the last 40 minutes of the film, 2) the film also features an Indian kid named Banky who has a crush on June, wears glasses that are taped together and is super nerdy, so YAY DIVERSITY? Aaaand 3) there is no official director listed because the actual director, Dylan Brown, was fired from the production last year for sexual misconduct towards crewmembers, and they just … finished it. Without hiring a new director. And then named it Wonder Park, despite it being about a park called Wonder Land. I give up.
Header Image Source: Paramount