Wonder Park (2019)

Instead of aiming for the type of animated outing that both adult and children connect with, Wonder Park predominantly caters to the younger crowd.  Cute, cuddly, and harmless, Wonder Park stars off with an interesting enough storyline – one that also pulls at the heartstrings in a surprisingly effective manner – before descending into traditional fare that will entertain the kiddies looking for a breezy way to spend 85 minutes.

Riding home the power of a child’s imagination, Wonder Park revolves around young June Bailey (voiced by Brianna Denski), an enthusiastic, occasionally rebellious young girl who has created “Wonderland”, a wild fantasy park in the far corners of her mind, spurred on by the encouragement of her loving mother (Jennifer Garner, delivering some beautifully tender vocal delivery).  This faux paradise is run by a crew of standard, yet no less adorable animals, including a narcoleptic blue bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), Greta (Mila Kunis), a wild boar, safety-cautious porcupine Steve (John Oliver), and the park’s own chimpanzee mascot Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz); Australian Nova 1069 presenters Ryan “Fitzy” Fitzgerald and Michael “Wippa” Wipfli provide the voices of a duo of brotherly Beavers in the Australian release, replacing Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong from the American version.

Just as June’s “Wonderland” creations continue to grow to logically-defying heights, her mother vacates the home due to her sudden illness (the Josh Appelbaum/Andre Nemec-penned script never specifically detailing what health affliction she has), which in turn demotivates June to create anything further regarding her magical amusement park.  Throwing her energy behind assisting her dad (Matthew Broderick) instead, believing he simply can’t cope on his own, June reluctantly agrees to attending math camp over the summer, but not being able to let go of her own fear that daddy dearest will perish under his own incompetence, she bails mid-bus trip only to stumble upon a run-down amusement park that bears an uncanny resemblance to her own “Wonderland”.

The park’s rundown state is reflective of June’s own mental darkness regarding her mother, and once she discovers how her imagination is literally tied to the mechanics of the park she teams up with the aforementioned Boomer and co. to restore “Wonderland” to its former glory.  It’s an entirely unsurprising chain of events that transpire, and as much as the film hopes to excite its young viewers with sequences of spectacle, Wonder Park never rises above Saturday cartoon fare.  In fact, rather ironically, its when the film focuses more on June and her mother that Wonder Park feels like a more alive product, with their being some genuine joy evoked from this rather tender mother/daughter relationship.

The animal characters that roam the park are, sadly, uninspired, and there’s only a small hint of magic created throughout, but it’s evident that there’s still an audience out there for Wonder Park, and the film’s message regarding maintaining the spark of a child’s imagination is present enough without feeling like we’re being force-fed.  Due to how spoiled we’ve been in the past in relation to animated titles Wonder Park can’t help but feel a little second-rate, but for families (specifically those with younger children) it’s a serviceable, undemanding excursion out to the theatre.

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