Wonder Park

 

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A phantasmagorical fairground is threatened when its creator starts to grow up…

 

Wonder Park

   

In the literal sense, Wonder Park is wonderful. That is, it’s full of child-like wonder and gleefully promotes the endless invention of a child’s imagination. The eponymous theme park is a wildly creative construct of giddying rides, talking animals and general phantasmagoria. Yet it is more than it seems. It is in fact the brainchild of a little girl called June (or ‘Junebug’), who is something of an engineering prodigy. But while June’s fertile mind provides the blueprint for the magical fairground, her adoring mother (voiced by Jennifer Garner) supplies the life force that powers this fantastical universe. And as June’s skills at construction develop with age, so she mobilizes the local kids to build an awesome ride that cuts through – and towers over – their own backyards. Inevitably, the maiden voyage does not end well and June, along with her best friend Banky, are almost killed, leading June’s parents to consider a number of disciplinary options.

 

However, before June is sent away to “math camp” (‘Camp Awe-Sum’), her mother leaves first, having been diagnosed with a mysterious sickness. That leaves June’s father (Matthew Broderick) to cope on his own, which June doesn’t really believe he is up to. So once she and Banky have set off for Camp Awe-Sum, June masterminds a diversion, sneaks away from the bus and slips into the woods to head home, to look after her father. However, in the undergrowth, she comes across an abandoned rollercoaster car and, sitting inside it, she inadvertently activates it. And before you can say Formula Rossa, she is whisked into what remains of her beloved Wonder Park, all but derelict and overgrown with ivy. And, above the giant clearing in the forest, hovers an amorphous storm cloud known as ‘the Darkness.’

 

While the dilapidated park serves as a metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence, there are other themes at play. Taken superficially, the film is a breezy entertainment for younger children, with thrilling action sequences, resourceful slapstick, magnificent animation and an irresistible, narcoleptic bear, like a blue version of The Jungle Book’s Baloo (voiced by Tom Baker). But Wonder Park – wait for this – is also a zombie movie and a medical thesis. The latter aspect is far from laboured, but when June enters a subatomic realm to rescue a monkey called Peanut (her alter ego?), she finds herself attacked by throngs of ‘chimpanzombies’ that multiply with the ruthless resolve of cancer cells. And so June and her animal friends must call on all their valour, camaraderie and ingenuity to battle the outside threat.

 

It is here that Wonder Park slips into the same multi-levelled thinking of Monsters Inc., Wreck-It-Ralph and Inside Out. Before June can rescue her world – and the lives of her animal friends – she must “go into the darkness” and conquer her fears. It is a dizzy ride, but one that neither condescends to its younger viewers (June often uses grown-up words), nor is dismissive of its adult audience (puns there are aplenty). More importantly, it addresses adult themes without over-egging them and one can take or leave the film’s ulterior motives. Accepted at face value, it is a witty, dynamic diversion packed with abundant detail and marvellous characters. It’s not often in a children’s film that you’ll find a porcupine that cites Greek and Latin and talks of an “existential crisis.” And at a trim 85 minutes, it makes sure that every second counts.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of  Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, John Oliver, Mila Kunis, Joe Sugg, Caspar Lee, Norbert Leo Butz, Brianna Denski, Tom Baker, Oev Michael Urbas, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Kevin Chamberlin.

  

Dir Dylan Brown, Pro Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Kendra Halland, Screenplay Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, Ph Juan García Gonzalez, Pro Des Fred Warter, Ed Edie Ichioka, Music Steven Price.

 

Paramount Animation/Nickelodeon Movies/Ilion Animation Studios-Paramount Pictures

85 mins. USA/Spain. 2019. Rel: 8 April 2019. Cert. PG.