[Screen It]

"WONDER PARK"
(2019) (voices of Brianna Denski, John Oliver) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Dramedy: A young girl stumbles upon a real-world representation of an amusement park she created with her imagination and must save it from a darkness that's spread over it following her mom's illness.
PLOT:
June (voice of BRIANNA DENSKI) is a girl who lives with her Mom (voice of JENNIFER GARNER) and Dad (voice of MATTHEW BRODERICK) who encourage her imagination, creativity, and ability to build things. Her favorite is imagining a sprawling amusement park that she and her Mom have named Wonder Land where a variety of talking animals build wild rides and welcome human guests. But when her Mom ends up gravely ill and must go away for treatment, June loses her desire to continue and puts away all of her Wonder Land drawings, toys and such.

When she's sent off to math camp with her best friend, Banky (voice of OEV MICHAEL URBAS), she realizes she can't leave her dad alone. With Banky creating a distraction for her, she leaves the bus group and heads off through the woods when she comes across a long-abandoned and overgrown roller coaster car. It ends up taking her into a real-life version of Wonder Land, complete with talking animals representing her stuffed toys.

There's Peanut (voice of NORBERT LEO BUTZ), a chimp who comes up with the ideas -- from hearing June or her Mom's voice telling him what to create next -- as well as beaver siblings Gus (voice of KENAN THOMPSON) and Cooper (voice of KEN JEONG) who build everything. Erudite porcupine Steve (voice of JOHN OLIVER) is the safety officer and Boomer (voice of KEN HUDSON CAMPBELL) the bear tests the rides, while Greta (voice of MILA KUNIS) the boar is the boss of them all.

But unlike in June's imagination, things aren't great in the real-world Wonder Land. In fact, they're downright bad what with "zombie" chimp dolls having overrun the place that they're tearing apart bit by bit. That's all happened since an ominous vortex known as The Darkness appeared over the park. From that point on, and realizing she's the cause of that, June does what she can to make things right and save her and the animals' park.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Like many moviegoers, sometimes all I want from a film is two hours or so of pure escapism from the real world. I don't want to be reminded of politics, social injustices, or other ills of modern society that typically make most people depressed, nervous and/or mad.

That said, some of the best flicks manage to sneak in deeper thematic elements and slather enough of that escapism over them to the degree that many folks either don't notice such inclusions or don't mind that they're present.

And that sort of material doesn't have to occur in straight dramas. Instead, the likes of horror films and even kid flicks can layer them in. Pixar is one of the best in terms of the latter, sometimes dropping in some fairly heavy material into the proceedings, although such matters and symbolism often go over younger kids' heads.

While not a Pixar property, the computer-animated dramedy "Wonder Park" is striving for delivering the same sort of deeper resonance within the confines of a goofy comedy. Alas, while I appreciate the effort, the package in which it's delivered, while certainly not horrible, clearly isn't first rate or top-notch.

For a film about imagination and creativity -- the story revolves around a girl (voiced by Brianna Denski) who, along with her mom (Jennifer Garner), has created an imaginary amusement park, Wonder Land (which makes one wonder why the title uses "Park" instead) where animals (her stuffed toys) run the place, create and test the rides, greet human visitors and so on -- there isn't enough of either element.

Sure, there's plenty of frenetic behavior and action -- enough to likely keep attention deficit kids (and maybe even some adults in that same conditional boat satiated -- and the always kid-friendly and approved talking animals element. And there are some zany rides in the amusement park.

But the story simply isn't that special -- notwithstanding the thematic elements -- in that the girl's imagination ends up creating a real-life version of her Wonder Land, complete with those talkative critters and she eventually stumbles upon the place and interacts with her creations (who don't realize she's essentially their god-like creator).

It's not what she had initially dreamed up, however, with nary a visitor to be found and her animals characters -- chimp Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), beaver siblings Gus (Kenan Thompson and Cooper (Ken Jeong), porcupine Steve (John Oliver) Boomer the bear (Ken Hudson Campbell), and Greta the boar (Mila Kunis) -- having to deal with a bunch of chimpanzombies (formerly cute plush toys turned one-minded monsters intent on tearing the park down).

They arrived along with "The Darkness" that's represented by an ominous vortex that swirls above the park. It obviously represents the manifestation of the girl's bitter reality check and need to shelve her playful imagination in light of her mom having to leave town to treat a never identified but obviously grave illness.

There's potential aplenty in that setup, and thus it's hard to tell if film's failure to work as well as intended lies in the original story by Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec, or the fact that director Dylan Brown (who was making his directorial debut) was fired from the production midstream by Paramount for alleged "inappropriate and unwanted conduct." Either way, something just feels a bit off from start to finish as things play out over the course of nearly ninety minutes.

That said, the animation is terrific and the vocal work is solid, even if John Oliver (whose comedy I like when he's in human form) slowly but surely becomes somewhat distracting as his erudite porcupine character ends up disappearing into the vocal performer rather than the traditional fashion of doing just the opposite.

In the end, and despite the thematic elements I wasn't expecting upon having watched the trailers and commercials, "Wonder Park" doesn't feel as wondrous as it should, and certainly isn't something I'd stand in line again for a second or third ride. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 9, 2019 / Posted March 15, 2019


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