Directed by David Feiss, Clare Kilner and Robert Iscove
Screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec
Story by Robert Gordon, Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec
Featuring Jennifer Garner, Ken Hudson Campbell, Kenan Thompson, Matthew Broderick, Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Ken Jeong, Norbert Leo Butz, Brianna Denski
As a youngster, I wanted nothing more than to make my dreams a reality. No, I’m not talking about writing film reviews or being a hotel manager. No, I dreamt of making a waterfall work that I saw in a television show. I always said to my mom: “hey, look! So and so made this work. Can we try it?” My mom of course knew better (whose mom didn’t, right?)
But, I always kept it in the back of my mind that I could be the creative, crafty one, even though I inevitably colored outside the lines. It goes without saying that I never got around to making my own “Wonder Park,” the center of the animated feature that hits screens this weekend.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, that I can assure you.
No, I was not as lucky as June, voiced by Brianna Denski in her debut role. Nor as talented. Of course, even though my mom was great, June has to settle for Jennifer Garner (could you go wrong with a voice like that!?) and a dad that sounded a lot like Matthew Broderick. As a young girl, armed with a grand imagination, she worked to build Wonder Park, a place where things can be created in an instant.
Through Peanut, a chimpanzee and Wonderland’s chief mascot, June’s imagination soared. In a wonderful opening sequence, June reimagines her Wonderland with her friend Banky (voiced by Oev Michael Urbas). The script makes very little bones about the fact that Banky has a crush on June, something she ignores. Of course, on their first attempt on their recreated ride results in disaster, but it was fun for us to see the imagination come to fruition even if I had a painful reminder of the number of times I thought I could do something when it was far beyond my own, singular ability to accomplish.
And, that’s one of the life lessons that “Wonder Park” gets right. It’s not a singular effort, even though the story spends a lot of its precious time pretending that June would rather be on her own.
June eventually gives up on keeping Wonderland alive, putting away her childish things. It isn’t until her mom falls ill and she tries to be an adult, that she realizes how much her imagination still plays a vital role in her life.
The screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec really drive that point home, a la “Swiss Family Robinson” style, and by accident, June realizes that by running away from the best parts of ourselves is really an affirmation of their importance in who we are.
There is a vibrancy in the animation that makes up the dilapidated Wonderworld. This, after June falls in to it unexpected. She runs in to the rest of her pals, Gus, Cooper, Boomer, Greta and Steve. They are each an extension of her mind, safety catches if you will. There is distrust and there is a need for teamwork to rescue Peanut who is at the behest of a great nothing which has swept over the Wonderland.
The story really reflects, perhaps a bit too accurately, on that which ails June’s life. This is a downfall of the film – rather than being a natural extension of her struggles, the story relies too heavily on the escape paralleling her journey.
“Wonder Park” has its moments though: building on imagination, we realize that our own inner child is where we can find the best of ourselves. But relying on it requires team work. The story doesn’t always work, but the animation is stunning and the characters are easy to fall in love with.
2 out of 4 stars.