Movie Review: 'Wonderpark'
A spunky little girl uses love and light to rescue her beloved amusement park.
June Bailey (voiced by Sofia Mali) builds a makeshift slide out of bendy straws, toothpicks and cupcake liners in "Wonderpark."
Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In “Wonder Park,” an 8-year-old girl builds a miniature amusement park and later discovers that it's a real place hidden in the woods. The problem is that a storm cloud known as the Darkness threatens to take over the park and transform the amusement park into a hellish place run by chimpanzombies. “Wonder Park” is an entertaining movie with amazing animation and creative visuals, but the plot falls a little short.
The story begins with June Bailey (Sofia Mali) and her mother (Jennifer Garner) developing Wonderland, a magical amusement park with roller coasters and stunning rides. The park is run by a crew of talking animals, including Boomer the bear (Ken Hudson Campbell), Greta the boar (Mila Kunis); beaver brothers Gus (Kenan Thompson) and Cooper (Ken Jeong); Steve the prickly porcupine (John Oliver); and the park’s mascot, Peanut the monkey (Norbert Leo Butz), who hears a mysterious voice telling him what to draw (and bring to life) using with his gold magic marker.
As June gets older, she continues to expand her miniature toy amusement park with more rides and attractions. She and her neighbor Banky (Oev Michael Urbas) try to bring Wonderland to life by creating a roller coaster ride in the backyard. It's fun until it breaks and crashes, careening into the street, tearing up their fence and ruining the lawn. Her parents continue to encourage her determination to follow her dreams, but advise her to be more careful. The family continues to have fun, but Mrs. Bailey gets sick. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but she is admitted to the hospital leaving June home with her dad. June is sad without her mom and doesn't want to play with her Wonderland miniatures anymore. It’s no fun without Mom.
Later, June goes to math camp with her friend Banky. On the bus, June opens her lunchbox and finds an affectionate note from her dad. June panics and worries that her dad might not be able to manage without her. She creates a distraction on the bus and gets the driver to pull over. With all the kids off the bus, June decides to run back home through the woods. Somehow, June finds a burned piece of the Wonder Park map and chases it into the woods. All of a sudden, June finds herself in a different place. She climbs inside an abandoned cart and is transported into Wonderland. Yes, it's the park that she envisioned and dreamed about. Is it real or is she dreaming?
When June gets into the park, she discovers the animals are fleeing in terror from a dark storm cloud. Emerging from it are chimpanzombies. The park’s former Wonder Chimps (stuffed animal monkeys) are becoming terrible troublemakers, destroying everything in sight. June and her animal friends run away from the Chimpanzombies.
Gradually June realizes that the darkness at Wonderland is a reflection of how she allowed darkness to consume her life and create chaos. The story continues as June and her animal friends try to restore order and bring light into Wonderland. They work together to activate broken parts of the amusement park and get it running again. They also come up with a plan to stop the Chimpanzombies, and turn them back into innocent little Wonder Chimps.
What Parents Should Know
“Wonder Park” is an entertaining movie that reflects friendship, teamwork, creativity and thinking outside the box. It’s reminiscent of Disney’s “Toy Story,” where toys come to life, except this time it’s an amusement park. Part of the magic of the story is that we don’t know if what’s happening is real, or if June’s imagination is working overtime. In any case, June thinks fast on her feet and is a swift problem solver. She loves building things and figuring out how and why things work.
The movie depicts a healthy parent-child relationship. June's mom encourages her daughter to be creative as they make Wonderland out of found objects like bendy straws, wood and plastic building blocks. June’s dad is also a positive role model in that he lovingly cares for his daughter, and he stands strong when his wife is away.
Most of the film is a good versus evil showdown between the chimpanzombies and June, Boomer the bear, Greta the boar, beavers Gus and Cooper, Steve the porcupine, and Peanut the monkey. Sensitive children may be frightened by the chimpanzombies, who threaten to destroy Wonderland. There are dangerous situations, peril, crashes and explosions.
I don’t think the filmmakers intended the chimpanzombies to be taken too seriously. They’re basically stuffed animals, but they carry weapons, and their eyes are glazed over as they’re hypnotized. As a parent, I didn’t like the idea of chimpanzombies, and how they became consumed by darkness when June threw her stuff into the fireplace and lost interest in playing with her miniature amusement park. It seems heavy handed and just plain weird.
The movie implies the June is responsible for the chaos in Wonderpark. Yes, she is to blame and even admits that it’s all her fault. By becoming depressed and no longer wanting to play with Wonderpark, she initiates darkness and causes an army of wonderchimps to turn into zombies. Give me a break, she's just a little girl!
Towards the end of the film, June looks up to the sky and sees a dark cloud. She realizes that the darkness may never completely go away, but she can keep it at bay by fostering love and light. Evidently, the ending is supposed to be a lesson for kids watching the movie: Keep your thoughts and actions positive, or darkness may consume you.
Something else that raises red flags is Peanut the monkey. It's kind of strange but Peanut has a gold marker which he waves in the air, as if he’s drawing a picture, enabling him to magically create things out of thin air. Peanut hears a voice inside his head that tells him what to do. Later in the film, it turns out that the voice is June’s mother. Yes, it’s her voice that tells Peanut what to do, and he is totally powerless without her instructions. All of this rubbed me the wrong way and is eerily reminiscent of spirit guides. Perhaps the filmmakers were subtly encouraging children to listen for voices inside their head when they don’t know what to do.
I enjoyed the colorful animation of this film, but the concepts of love and light and suggestion that a child can bring darkness into the world by simply being unhappy or not playing with their toys is far fetched.