MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder Park
WONDER PARK— 2 STARS
The new animated family flick Wonder Park offers an imagined world of roller coasters and amusement built with as much love as they are creative engineering. The principles of STEM support the cinematic chain lift hills before the drops take audiences through inversions and turns of family feels. Like the railed, ridden inventions it depicts, Wonder Park has clever ideas and solid foundations, but too many trim brakes, suspensions, bumps, dead spots, and other hits of filmed friction slow the glee and weaken the poignant pillars attempted.
In the main character June, precociously voiced by newcomer Brianna Denski, you have an bright pre-teen who grew up more into gears and gadgets than dolls and doilies. Her ingenuity and personality come from years of quality time fostered by her mother (Jennifer Garner). Through the pretend vessels of her stuffed animals and the inspiration of bedtime stories, June creates her own “Wonderland” of crafted machines, rides, tracks, and decorations all throughout their happy hamlet home. As June grew bigger, so did the size and ambition of her roller coasters, ending up with DIY backyard-sized thrills that wow her peers and neighbors, skin a few knees, and bruise a few elbows.
Then, all of that bubbly nature stops when June’s mother gets sick and needs to leave home for several months. June’s brightness fades and the now-worrywort girl puts away her childish things in a bout of clear depression. Passed off to a summer math camp by her father (Matthew Broderick), June tries to escape the bus ride to go back home and wallow instead of socialize.
Hiking through the forest home, she comes upon a working full-size embodiment of her former “Wonderland” complete with her enlivened stuffed animals friends (the game voice ensemble of Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, and Norbert Leo Butz). Matching her lesser confidence, the park has fallen into chaos and disrepair that only its original creator can fix. The Immelman roll of Wonder Park’s dalliance into this surreal parkscape is the first bunny hop where the guide wheels and gravity of the movie start to wobble.
LESSON #1: THE DEFINITION OF SPLENDIFEROUS — The Merriam-Webster Dictionary formally defines this cute mouthful of an adjective as “extraordinarily or showily impressive.” The movie’s cuddly characters launch this signature exclamation often and it’s fitting in plenty of places. To the movie’s great credit, the CGI settings and backdrops are eye-popping and dazzling, even when superficial and fluffy in impact. Think of Wonder Park as a 21st century version of the old video games Theme Park and Roller Coaster Tycoon wrapped around a family movie narrative.
Compartmentalize Wonder Park to the depths that are possible in the name of exploration. Only half of the potential inquiry is fully formed. Observation and discovery are big steps in the STEM side of this movie’s super-sized personality. Instead of just imagining cool ideas, this girl and her mother brought them to life with nuts, bolts, folds, glue, glitter, and more. Most certainly, that’s empowering and outstanding, especially for young girls. However, what isn’t explored nearly enough are the heartbeats instead of the batteries.
LESSON #2: IMAGINATION VERSUS PRACTICAL — The movie’s showy strength is also the source of plenty of its weakness. It is a huge positive to see imagination articulated on this kind of scale in Wonder Park, but the balance of those launches and banks to the human core is a tonal shift no loop can close or spin can contain. The impulses are here for measurably deep metaphors and discussions on fear, worry, doubt, and maturity for the target demographic of this movie. The humble heft of those personal and familial challenges is given too much helium to matter once the urge for manic merriment takes over for the majority of the movie. A really good thrill would have been seeing those two tracks merged together with heady harmony.