The wonder is it ever got released.
Like any well-planned amusement park, Wonder Park looks pretty good on paper. Okay, so it isn’t made by Pixar, Illumination, Maika or even Blue Sky, but by Ilion Animation Studios, which gave us Planet 51. And it has a first time director, but it’s Dylan Brown, who worked at Pixar for two decades, as animator or supervising animator on such films as Finding Nemo, Monster’s Inc., The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Then there’s the convoluted but intriguing plot: a little girl dreamed up an amusement park called ‘Wonderland’, but when her mum gets sick, she forgets about it – until, aged 10, she discovers that it came to life years before, and has fallen into disrepair since the little girl stopped thinking about it. So now she must reunite with the toys who populate the park to bring it back to life. Finally, there’s the not-too-shabby voice cast Matthew Broderick (Simba in the original Lion King!), John Oliver (Zazu in the new Lion King!) Mila Kunis, Jennifer Garner, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, and Jeffrey Tambor. Except – wait – Jeong and Thompson are replaced by vloggers Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee in the UK version (which improves on the US version by casting Tom Baker as Boomer, the narcoleptic bear). Oh, and Tambor was cut from the cast (like Louis C.K. from The Secret Life of Pets 2) due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Yikes – and then director Dylan Brown was fired from the film due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Okay, so things aren’t so great behind the scenes. But what about the film?
Well, it might have been better if it had been left to rot. It starts promisingly, with the little girl, June, and her mother (Jennifer Garner) using their imaginations to bring June’s amusement park ideas to life. But when mum gets sick (her illness is never specified, but it takes her to a far-off place June is mysteriously unable to visit), rather than keeping Wonderland going as a tribute to their key shared interest, she pulls it all down and puts it away. But somewhere – inexplicably, and unbeknownst to June – Wonderland has come to life, and has been (also inexplicably) overrun by little monkey creatures known as ‘chimpanzombies’, and a horrifying storm is brewing over the run down rides and rollercoasters of Wonderland, threatening to suck everything into it. Could this all be a metaphor for the cancer cells invading Mom’s body? You know what? It could! And is!
Perhaps writers Josh Applebaum and André Nemec (who gave us Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and the first of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies) were going for a kind of Inside Out vibe (with her short hair and big eyes, June even looks a little like Joy), with some of Toy Story‘s toys-come-to-life shenanigans. But just as the title, Wonder Park, is irritatingly incongruous with the film, in which June’s imagined amusements are only ever known as Wonderland (the film was developed and announced under the blander Amusement Park), so none of the elements come together as anything other than woefully confused, and often ill-judged. Even the metaphor doesn’t work, because the script never gives us the chance to connect what’s happening in the park to the turmoil in June’s head.
So… is Wonder Park a good movie for kids?
There is some amusement to be had on this rickety ride: a few of the supporting characters (notably John Oliver’s anxious porcupine, and the aforementioned bear) are fun to be around, and there’s an early set piece – in which June and her friends construct a soap box rollercoaster ride – that’s worthy of a Toy Story film. But overall, Wonder Park is as disappointing as Walley World was to Clark Griswold.
In fact, it could be the most ill-advised amusement park since John Hammond decided to grow dinosaurs from mosquitos.