Wonder Park (2019) Review
BIG IMAGINATION THAT
FALTERS IN ITS POTENTIAL
Imagination is a powerful thing. It’s the essence of exploring and developing creativity at its fullest; unleashing wild and crazy ideas that can be both fun and innovated to the world. The usage of imagination has taken many avenues in various outlets, including science, literary, business, and (most importantly) the arts. Within this context, imagination has inspired art (i.e. paintings, music, sculptures, movies, etc.) in various facets of the word by allowing expressiveness through bold passion and new interpretations Cinematic storytelling through movies and films are no different, with plenty of feature films utilizing (narrative-wise) the intangible power of imagination, including The NeverEnding Story, The Pagemaster, Finding Neverland, Bridge to Terabithia, Inside Out, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, and many others. Now, Paramount Pictures (in association with Nickelodeon Movies) and director Dylan Brown presents the latest tale of imagination with the movie Wonder Park. Does the find inspiration within its creative message or does it lack its imaginative potential?
June Bailey (Brianna Denski) is a bright, imaginative, and mischievous girl who’s been feverishly working on the development of Wonderland, an imaginary theme park, for most of her life. Aided by her mom (Jennifer Garner) in creating and expanding this colorful world, June develops adventures and design challenges for their friendly crew of Wonderland, including chimp Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), wild board Greta (Mila Kunis), porcupine Steve (John Oliver), bear Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), and beavers Gus (Kenan Thompson) and Cooper Ken Jeong). When her mom is diagnosed with a serious illness and sent away for treatment, June, who is left with her dad (Matthew Broderick), feels heartbroken and decides to abandon Wonderland completely; locking her imaginations of the wonderous place forever. However, while preparing for a time at math camp, June breaks away from her bus trip to check up to return home to check up on her dad, but ends up in a magical forest where Wonderland exists. Unfortunately, the whimsical property has fallen apart, with a cloud of darkness sucking up pieces of the park, which has been overwhelmed by stuffed Chimpanzombies out to wreck everything. Now, in order to save her childhood dream world, June gathers operators of Wonderland together and in a fight to take the park back from the darkness.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Personally, I’ve always had a big and wild imagination…it’s true. Ever since I was younger, my imagination has flourished and (like the saying goes) have seeing the world in a different light…. or at least I try to interpret it that way. Sure, I’m not the most practical (physically) in bringing my imagination to life as I’m terrible at drawing, painting, and sculpting. Thus, I’m more of the concept “dreamer”; always daydreaming of stuff and how the fantastic would play at part in today’s reality. As I always say, society (and the history of mankind itself) would be a lot different without the usage of imagination. Altogether, I’m a firm believer in people (not matter what age, gender, and ethnicity) using their imagination. Never cap it and always use it to its fullest potential.
Naturally, this brings me around to talking about Wonder Park, a 2019 animated feature that delves into the unbridled world of imagination….and the untold power within. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie online. Of course, plenty of other animated movies from prominent studios might have overshadowed the internet newsfeeds, which is probably why I didn’t hear much about Wonder Park’s announcement or even when the feature’s voice talent cast was released. I actually first heard about the movie when I saw the film’s movie trailer (I think I saw it in theaters rather than via the internet). To be truthful, I was quite impressed with trailer as it showcased an animated story that looked fun as well as colorful and promoting the usage of imagination. Plus, the film’s trailer (as well as the second trailer for the movie) utilized some songs that I liked such as Kina Grannis’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World” and American Author’s “Go Big or Go Home”. So, I was planning on seeing Wonder Park in theaters when it got released in March 2019, but for some reason I didn’t get the chance. I think it was because there were other movies coming out around that time that I wanted to see more, so my viewing of Wonder Park sort of fell through the cracks until recently when I decided to rent it via iTunes. So, what did I think of it? Well….while it’s definitely a fun movie to watch, but Wonder Park, despite having a strong premise, just lacks the potential within its own imagination. What’s presented is okay (and definitely works), but I wished there was more to this animated tale than what’s given.
Wonder Park is directed by Dylan Brown, whose background consist of various feature projects in Pixar Studios such as an animator for Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and Incredibles as well as a director several of Pixar shorts films (i.e. Small Fry, Partysaurs Rex, and Tales of Radiator Springs). Thus, with his knowledge of animated movies, Brown seems like a suitable choice to work on Wonder Park as his feature length directorial debut endeavor. Unfortunately, despite working on most of the film’s production process, Brown was dismissed by Paramount Pictures as the feature’s director due to “inappropriate and unwanted conduct”. So, despite him being Wonder Park’s director, the movie is actually credited without a director (it’s true…look it up). Looking beyond that point, Brown does find an underlining rhythm for the feature, which keeps the movie running at a brisk pace, with Wonder Park clocking in at around 85 minutes (i.e. one hour and twenty-five minutes). To be sure, the movie does feel like a kid’s movie, with Brown staging the feature to movie in a sort of “fast and furious” way (not the movie franchise, but swift and snappy way). Thus, Brown makes Wonder Park never dull or boring and keeps everything moving along.
In addition, the film’s script, which was penned by Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, and Robert Gordon, deals with some pretty heavy material (even for a kid’s movie). This is most apparent within June’s mother illness, which I assume is some type of cancer but the movie never fully discloses what it is, as well as June’s discarding her love of creativity and imagination. It’s plenty of emotional drama and touching moments that tug on the heartstrings that really do propel the feature beyond just the standard comical cartoon antics of its animated endeavor, which does make the Wonder Park stand out. To be honest, I was quite surprised on how “heavy” (dramatically / emotionally), but it ultimately works within the context of the feature’s narrative…. similar to the way in Pixar’s Inside Out. Additionally, what also be like about the movie’s thematic message is in the promoting of creativity and the usage of imagination, which I believe is quite paramount in just not kids or children but also in adults. So, the idea of June (in conjunction June’s mom and Peanut) creating and expanding Wonderland with unlimited possibilities is quite a palpable nature to promote and utilizes within a narrative. Altogether, the ideas of facing fear and sadness and to never give up on your dreams are powerful staples that the film holds onto…and that’s a good thing.
Animation-wise, Wonder Park is what you would expect from a kid’s animated feature endeavor of today’s world. While the movie’s animation probably won’t rival something like a Disney or Pixar motion picture movie, Wonder Park does succeed in being quite colorful and bright, which definitely captures the attention of its viewers (both kids and adults alike) in an entertaining way. Thus, regardless if you don’t particularly care for the film, at least its “eye catching” visual film to look at. What also helps in this contributing factor is in all the various attractions that Wonderland is filled with. There’s something quite imaginative and fantastic when the movie presents all the various designs and creative usage of the attractions that Wonderland has to offer. That’s why the film’s bulk (mostly the second and third act) is quite pleasing to watch. So, I do have to applaud the art direction team and the visual animators for bring all the intricate details and imaginative designs to Wonder Park’s Wonderland layout. Also, the film’s score, which was done by Steven Price, definitely adds some extra musical layers to the film; allowing various moments of drama, emotion, wonder, and comedy to be absorbing within its melodic nuances.
The main problem with Wonder Park is in the potential the film has within its own story, but never follows through in its execution. What do I mean? Well, the movie’s narrative is filled with great and wonderous ideas to play around with, which got me really interested in seeing the movie (i.e the creative ideas of Wonderland, the power of June’s imagination, and the various characters that operate the park). However, there’s a lot of areas of which the movie only seams certain aspects that could easily be explained (fully) and / or expanded upon to help elevate the main story. A prime example of this is within the character of Peanut, the mascot of Wonderland and the main imaginative creator of the park. There’s so much potential for his character in the movie and really does present a lot of opportunities to explore his own personal characteristic (i.e. fears and hopes) in explaining what he does and why he does it, but the movie only glosses over a lot of it and almost disregards a lot of Peanut’s plight, which is woefully underdeveloped and quite a missed opportunity in some thematically charge storytelling. This is also apparent in the ominous darkness that plagues Wonderland. Of course, similarities are there between June’s reality (fearing about her mom’s condition and trying to grow up) and the consuming destruction of Wonderland, but the movie sort of needs a “central antagonists” character to focus onto. Yes, the Minions-like horde of Chimpanzombies definitely cause mischief and havoc, but not enough for something quite villain. Think of the darkness in Disney’s 2018 A Wrinkle in Time. It’s a faceless and malice being that threatens all, but it simply lacks the villainous personification that a kid’s animated feature needs. The same can be said with Wonder Park; missing a vile cartoon-ish baddie that the movie certainly craves. In the end, the potential is there, but Wonder Park seems more focused on some fragmented tomfoolery antics than trying to hone in on some important aspects.
Because of this, the actual Wonderland amusement park is perhaps more interesting and engaging than the actual story that Wonder Park presents. As a whole, the ideas are there, but never really follow through. Thus, potential that Brown (along with the script writers) strive for, never really lives up to what they really want the film to be or rather what it should’ve been. Additionally, what’s a bit more frustrating (at least to me) is the fact that movie never fully explores the Wonderland park as much as what I was expecting it to be. Heck, we (as viewers) never really get a flesh showcase of the park’s various themed lands (only minor glimpses), which is a disappointing. The creativity of it all and the imagination of Wonderland is quite impressive…. I just wanted to see more of it. Also, the movie, despite promoting creativity fun and imagination, certainly plays itself “safe” in a lot of areas, with the feature’s story (and its characters) very much formulaic and predictable with not a whole lot of surprises / twists.
The voice talent cast for Wonder Park definitely boast some quite big / recognizable names for the feature, which certainly do elevate (or mask) some of the feature’s problematic areas. At the head of pack is the character of June (the film’s central protagonist), who is played by actress Brianna Denski. Known for her role in Wishin’ and Hopin’, Denski isn’t quite the household name of her past career work, but she definitely gets the job done; bringing the youthful voice of June to life, with a sense of energy and warmth. In more secondary roles are the various animal characters that operate the Wonderland amusement park. This includes actor Ken Hudson Campbell (Armageddon and Baby Bob) as a narcoleptic blue bear who welcomes the visitors to Wonderland named Boomer, actor Nobert Leo Butz (Dan in Real Life and Fair Game) as a chimpanzee who acts as Wonderland’s mascot and ride creator named Peanut, actor John Oliver (Last Week with John Oliver and The Lion King) as a nervous porcupine who is the safety officer of Wonderland named Steve, actress Mila Kunis (Ted and That’s 70s Show) as a wild board who is ringleader of the group / Steve’s love interest named Greta, and actors Ken Jeong (The Hangover and Community) and Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live and Kenan & Kel) as the bickering comical Beaver brothers named Cooper and Gus. These voice talents certainly do deliver on aiding Wonder Park’s colorful animated world with exuberant natures and comical jubilation. However, the character themselves aren’t exactly the most ingenious and sort of start to blend as the feature presses forward. Again, the voice talents elevate their generic personas, but it’s a bit disappointing as (like I said) the potential is there.
Rounding out the cast (in more supporting roles) includes actress Jennifer Garner (Alias and 13 Going on 30) as June’s mom, actor Matthew Broderick (The Lion King and The Producers) as June’s dad, and actor Oev Michael Urbas (making his debut in the movie) as June’s best friend Banky. These roles, while very much bookending the feature, are still quite good within their limited screen-time in getting the job done in several individuals that surround June’s life.
Struggling with sadness and fear, June stumbles upon into Wonderland and discovers that its trouble (and possible reawakening) lie with her in the movie Wonder Park. Director Dylan Brown (or rather the collective body that worked on this project) takes a animated journey of creativity and imagination; exploring a little girl’s fictional amusement park with gleeful wonder and kid-friendly wonder throughout. While the movie’s story is heartwarming, the animation is great, the characters are amusing, and the voice talents are fun and energetic, the film just feels preprogramed with triumphs and setbacks along the way that lacks precision in sometimes execution and in the missed opportunities that the story glosses over; creating rushed fragmented pieces or questionable plot holes. To me, this movie was good, but I felt a bit underwhelmed by it. The story is there, the voice acting is solid, and the imagination of Wonderland is fantastic, but the movie just lacks potential in “going big” and further explaining everything in greater detail. If it did do that, however, my thoughts on Wonder Park would’ve been much better. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “rent it” as kids might find it to their liking, but, with a lot more favorable choice out there for them to choose, this one might be on the backburner (a sort of “try something new one day”). In the end, Wonder Park has plenty of heart and imagination, but just simply lacks the potential of its own story of endless creativity and palpable human emotions. That being said, I am curious to see where the spin-off TV show will take this idea; potentially leading June and company (and Wonderland itself) into new episodic adventures.
3.1 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: March 15th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 16th, 2019
Wonder Park is 85 minutes long and is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action