×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Wonder Park’

A fantasy amusement park becomes a projection of a young girl's distress in a winsome animated fable that's like 'Inside Out' minus the wonder.

With:
Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, John Oliver, Mila Kunis, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, Norbert Leo Butz.
Release Date:
Mar 15, 2019

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6428676/

Why is “Wonder Park” called “Wonder Park”? The heart of the new digitally animated feature, a co-production of Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies, is set in a spectacular fantasy amusement park, with train tracks shaped like a giant octopus’ tentacles, that’s nestled in a pastoral sunlit forest vista that looks like it could be the setting for Shangri-La. As much as any theme park in existence, it seems designed to fulfill any and every child’s dream. The name of the place? Wonderland. It’s possible that “Wonderland,” as a movie title, was seen as some sort of potential infringement upon the Lewis Carroll estate. But whatever the reason, the phrase “wonder park” is never uttered in the film, and that creates a slightly dislocated feeling.

So does the rest of the movie. It’s one of those kiddie features in which you can sense, in every scene, how hard the animators are working to please you. It’s as if they were saying, “Look at how catchy our concept is! A magical theme park! A little girl dealing with the trauma of her mother’s illness! And the park, which she imagined — yes, the whole thing is a projection of her creativity and loneliness — turning out to be a place that she has to repair, so that it can go on healing her.”

Watching “Wonder Park,” it’s hard not to see the tidy sentimental caution with which every scene has been assembled and polished. It’s also hard not to register the movie’s broad, if simplistic, conceptual resemblance to “Inside Out.” In this case, though, it’s tricky to know who exactly to hold responsible for the movie’s creative vision, since the director, Dylan Brown, was taken off the project by Paramount in January 2018 after the studio’s investigation into what it claimed was a complaint of “inappropriate and unwanted conduct.” “Wonder Park” is the rare film that’s being released without a directorial credit. Who knows how that affected its final shape, but to judge from what’s onsceen the filmmakers are working so hard to wow and charm and touch us that it’s as if they’d conned themselves into not noticing what a sweet trifle their movie is.

And it is sweet. The heroine, June (voiced by Brianna Denski), is a precocious girl with shiny big green eyes whose loving relationship with her mother (Jennifer Garner) gets played out in the theme park that they imagine together. All the rides and characters are things that June makes up. They’re part of a story she’s telling, and she has gathered them into a pop-up scrapbook. The film, through June, presents an idyllic vision of childhood, until June’s mother announces (rather abruptly) that she is ill — seemingly with cancer — and needs to go away for a while, leaving June with her nice eager bumbling dad (Matthew Broderick). The trauma of the situation hits June in a way she doesn’t even realize. All she knows is that the last thing she wants to do is to go to math camp, where she is being sent.

The animation in “Wonder Park” is never less than textured, sculptured, world-class. There is barely such a thing anymore as a mainstream animated feature that looks less than miraculous in its witty sensuality and tactile precision, and “Wonder Park,” in its blockbuster storybook way, has images that ravish the eyes. Wonderland itself isn’t just a place of wonder but a place of unearthly beauty, with a magic-hour glow, and the movie catches us up in the antic glory of rides like the Sky Flinger, a humongous spidery contraption that looks like a “War of the Worlds” alien as it hurls customers across the sky inside spheres of glass.

When the bus stops on the way to math camp, June runs off into the woods and winds up at Wonderland. It’s the very place she imagined, now come to life! Except that it’s a shell of itself: broken down, not working, abandoned by the crowds who are there in June’s fantasy life. The animal mascots who staff the place are beside themselves, and they’re played, in a standard energized comic style, by a lively range of performers, from Ken Hudson Campbell as Boomer the goofy bear to John Oliver as Steve the neurotically civilized porcupine to Mila Kunis as Greta the stern task-master of a warthog to Norbert Leo Butz as Peanut, the brilliant chimp who sort of runs the place (but when everything falls apart, it turns out that he’s literally locked himself into a chamber of self-doubt). The voices are vivid, but the lines are cuddly rather than witty; the dialogue doesn’t pop.

And the plot of the movie seems to have been put together by fiat. The park has a tribe of stuffed chimpanzees, the Wonder Chimps, who turn into chattering Chimpan-Zombies (that’s literally what they’re called), who run amok like villains. But all we can think about these monkey minions is that they seem like knockoffs of the Minions (with a lot less variety and chattering verve). The notion of a larger-than-life theme-park world as a projection of what June is going through comes directly out of “Inside Out,” but the comparison does “Wonder Park” no favors, because the earlier film was a masterpiece of bursting ingenuity, leaving this one to play like the scaled-down toddler version. On that score, it must be said that little kids will like “Wonder Park” just fine. But there’s a difference between a great escape and a winsomely crafted pacifier.

An earlier version of this review erroneously stated that Dylan Brown was removed by the studio after it received “multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.” Rather, the studio stated that it removed him after an investigation into what it claimed was a complaint of “inappropriate and unwanted conduct.” 

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Wonder Park'

Reviewed at Regal E-Walk, New York, March 9, 2019. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: A Paramount Pictures release of a Paramount Animation, Nickelodeon Movies, Ilion Animation Studios production. Producers: Josh Applebaum, André Nemec, Kendra Haaland. Executive producers: Jonathan Gordon, Don Hahn, Karen Rosenfelt, Brian Witten.

Crew: Screenplay: Josh Applebaum, André Nemec. Camera (color, widescreen): Juan García Gonzalez. Editor: Edie Ichioka. Music: Steven Price.

With: Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, John Oliver, Mila Kunis, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, Norbert Leo Butz.

More Film

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

  • Bob Bakish Viacom CEO

    ViacomCBS Leaders Talk NFL Negotiations, Streaming Wars and Merger Focus

    Viacom and CBS aim to prosper in the streaming arena by covering both ends of the marketplace, blending Viacom’s focus on ad-supported platforms with CBS’ strong head start on subscribers for CBS All Access and Showtime. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish and incoming ViacomCBS chief financial officer Christina Spade outlined the combined company’s vision for how [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

  • RUTH HANDLER Barbie doll creator Ruth

    'Dream Doll' Biopic on Barbie Doll Inventor in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Dream Doll,” a biopic based on Barbie Doll inventor Ruth Handler, is in development with Bron Studios, Rita Wilson and Rare Bird Films, Variety has learned exclusively. The film will chronicle the life of Handler as she founded Mattel in 1945 and created the now-iconic Barbie doll, named after her daughter Barbara, in 1959. Handler [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content