Wonder Park Review: Magical realism that largely works
The film, made clearly with the younger audiences in mind, largely succeeds in telling the story it sets out to
The cold open of Wonder Park is one of the most interesting amongst animation films I have seen recently. It sets up a carnival atmosphere showcasing magical rides inside a theme park named Wonder Land. It then introduces us to talking animals who are in charge of the park - a bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell) who welcomes visitors, a porcupine name Steve (John Oliver), who is in charge of safety, two beavers named Cooper (Ken Jeong) and Gus (Kenan Thompson), who take care of maintenance, a boar named Greta (Mila Kunis), who is the overall in-charge, and a chimpanzee named Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), who is the creator of all the rides in the park. All this seems par for the course for an animated film, right? But here is where the stinger comes in. This whole place is make believe and is a world built by the stories of a mother-daughter duo.
Cast: Brianna Denski, Norbert Leo Butz, Mila Kunis, John Oliver
If this reminds you a bit of The Lego Movie, you're not alone. There is another reference to The Lego Movie towards the end of Wonder Park when Peanut and our little protagonist, June (Brianna Denski) are caught in a near inescapable tornado. But the Lord-Miller creation itself was based on the famous tropes of Disney and Pixar movies, and if not all, we get a fair few of them in Wonder Park.
Like classic Disney films, this one has a darkness associated with the person June cares most about - her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner. Over a hopeful song that lifts the mood, we, alongside June, discover that her mom has a disease and she has to travel to seek a cure. A dejected June realises for the first time how helpless she actually is without the presence of her constant source of encouragement - the woman who made her dream and be herself. Thankfully, the film doesn't go all Disney by overdoing this angle (I am looking at you The Lion King). And June is no princess either - her father doesn't give in to her every want and she doesn't pine after a boy either.
Wonder Park has shades of Pixar too. It wants the lead to grow up (not too much, just enough) during this troubling time. And as with every Pixar movie ever made, she cannot do this alone. Her regular friends and her extended family extend a helping hand but she doesn't want their help. She, however, gets this support from the animals of Wonder Land, and through their friendship and teamwork, she comes to understand herself, and a lot more.
But the problem arises when this film wants to distinguish itself from the two big studios and their stamps. The lines are too on the nose and the emotional depth is not that great either in the latter half of the film. Some character arcs, their quips and decision-making aren't consistent. The only one who is a riot from start to finish is John Oliver, who, in his fantastic British accent, steals the show every time he opens his mouth. The colour palette is also not consistent and this is quite criminal in an animated film.
However, Wonder Park, made clearly with the younger audiences in mind, largely succeeds in telling the story it sets out to. Even if it doesn't have a credited director and isn't a ride that is totally fulfilling, Wonder Park does pass enough muster to justify the entrance ticket.