Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 6, 2019)
Proof that family audiences will flock to anything: the decent box office performance of 2019’s Wonder Park. With a worldwide gross of $119 million, no one will call it a smash, but that’s at least $118 million more than this debacle deserved.
Intelligent and creative, young June Bailey (voiced by Brianna Denski) teams with her mom (Jennifer Garner) to sketch out plans for a theme park called “Wonderland”. However, when mom gets sick and needs to go away for treatment, June abandons these fantasies and turns into a conservative pragmatist.
Concerned about her dad’s (Matthew Broderick) welfare, she abandons a bus to math camp and tries to head home. Along the way, she finds herself in Wonderland, the park she and her mom envisioned.
June becomes trapped there and can’t find an exit. She needs to partner with simian Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz) and his animal pals to repair the decrepit Wonderland and restore order.
Can someone explain to me why the main location in a movie called Wonder Park goes by the name “Wonderland”? I’d guess this relates to some form of copyright issue or simply a desire to avoid confusion with Alice in Wonderland, but why not call the movie’s destination “Wonder Park” to match? This seems like a bizarre choice.
If this perplexing discrepancy offered the film’s only flaw, I’d count myself happy. Unfortunately, Park suffers from a surfeit of problems that it can’t overcome.
Internal consistency becomes a major concern, as much of Park just doesn’t make sense. I won’t quibble with the fantasy elements other than to point out that Park comes with a massive, relentless debt to Wizard of Oz.
While I won’t call Park a clear rip-off of Oz…wait, actually I will. I can’t claim it brings a carbon copy of the Baum classic, but the two come with far too many similarities to dismiss.
Leave out this thievery and Park sticks us with many elements that simply make no sense. For instance, June builds a massive, neighborhood-spanning thrill ride that not a single adult notices until the attraction launches into disaster.
Even in a movie where I accept anthropomorphic, talking animals, this goes too far. June and her pals construct a ride that’d take weeks to assemble, but no one sees this?
In addition, when this operation goes horribly awry, her parents threaten to punish her. The movie then immediately shows how June’s mother once again invests in the creation of Wonderland, with no obvious signs of discipline on display.
Also, when June returns from her adventures in Wonderland, she looks disheveled and dirty. Her dad seems curious to know why she’s back, but he doesn’t question her state of physical disrepair or how she worked her way back from math camp, a location many miles from home.
Maybe June just has the most permissive parents in history, ones who fail to notice when you cut apart fences to create a massive, house-dominating thrill ride, and ones who don’t question what happened when you suddenly emerge from nowhere when you’re supposed to be at a remote location.
Because I don’t think we’re supposed to view June’s parents as self-obsessed idiots, though, I have to feel the movie just didn’t bother to worry about logic. Hey, it’s a kiddie flick – who cares if it makes sense?
I do. Just because a film’s meant for a young audience doesn’t mean it can dispense with intelligence and clarity, so the movie’s poor construction feels like an insult to the audience.
Perhaps if Park generated even a wee modicum of fun and/or excitement, I’d forgive its flaws a little more readily. Unfortunately, it brings us a scattered, random collection of scenes without much to deliver an enjoyable experience.
Wisecracking talking animals? Check. Actual humor? Nope.
The narrative remains a major obstacle, as it simply becomes tough to figure out what the heck June and the critters need to do. We get that they must restore Wonderland to its prior glory, but the machinery needed for this seems vague and unclear.
Sure, we know that Peanut needs to use a literal magic marker to rebuild Wonderland, but we don’t really understand much else about this. The threat from the “chimpanzombies” seems loose and unconvincing at best, and nothing about June’s shenanigans with the animals goes anywhere.
As I watched Park, I couldn’t believe how long it felt. It might claim to run a mere 85 minutes, but the Theory of Relativity quickly kicked in and made the experience progress at a much slower pace.
Somewhere buried in this mess resides a potentially fun movie – or at least a watchable one. Neither fun nor watchable, Wonder Park becomes a thoroughly terrible animated adventure.