Cast: Brianna Denski, Tom Baker, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, Joe Sugg, Caspar Lee, John Oliver, Norbert Leo Butz
Running time: 85 minutes
Fourteen years ago, a band of plucky talking toys changed the game forever. Playing with our emotions in the best way possible using a brave space man and a loyal pull-string sheriff, Toy Story sky-rocketed— with style — into the hearts of an entire generation. Somewhat inevitably, in the years following Woody and Buzz’s daring escape from Sid’s torture den, many have tried to out-Pixar Pixar.
Most have failed. But mediocrity has been far from a deterrent, and the conveyer belt of animation imitation lurches on. The latest to arrive on the scene is Wonder Park — a joint effort from Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies. From the minds of Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (who both take up producing duties here, too), this is a film with imagination at its core.
Cameron “June” Bailey (Denski) is a young girl with bubbling creativity. Along with mother (Garner), the pair conjure up a fantastical amusement park where blue bears welcome guests and a chimpanzee constructs entirely new attractions with the flick of a magic pen. However, like a rollercoaster with a sudden drop, the imaginary park soon plummets into theme park purgatory when Mum is taken ill and sent away for recovery. Faced with the daunting conundrum of summer vacation and a disenfranchised child, Dad (Broderick) sends June away to Math Camp. However, after quickly deciding it’s not for her and some truly woeful chaperoning — the type Netflix would probably make an 8-part docuseries about — she ends up alone in a vast woodland while navigating her way home.
There, she stumbles across the now derelict theme park from her imagination, neglected and leaderless after the disappearance of its pen-wielding primate. To make matters worse, the park is slowly being engulfed by a sinister dark cloud of destruction and an army of the park’s former toys, known as ‘Chimpanzombies’. With no one left to fight for the park’s future, it’s up to June and a gaggle of quirky characters — including Wild Boar Greta (Kunis) and a narcoleptic bear named Boomer (Baker) — to restore the park to its once glorious state.
Scepticism is a difficult thing to shake when it’s quickly apparent the film’s title is not in fact the name of its central attraction. Imagine Harry Potter being a story about a bloke called Dave, or Lord of the Rings, in fact, being a quest to destroy an all-powerful hair pin. In this case, Wonder Park is actually Wonder Land. And, in a film where the creative possibilities are, quite literally, limitless, it’s a shame that so little of it feels wholly original. A sugar-coated adventure with a tablespoon of Inside Out, a cup of Narnia and a pinch of The Neverending Story — only with rollercoasters and eccentric beavers — there’s a distinct lack of worthwhile, wholesome goodness to be found anywhere here.
The dilemmas feel under-baked and contrived, with characters so thinly sketched you’ll be leaving any emotional investment firmly at the gate. There are whiffs of fun to be had, however, namely, in the company of John Oliver’s paranoid porcupine, but it rarely feels little more than an after-thought. Wonder Park’s central narrative crux — a child struggling to repair the emotional void left by parental absence — is ground we’ve covered many times before. But instead of offering any poignant perspective, like a five-year-old with a Dip Dap addiction, Wonder Park’s prerogative appears to be how quickly it can loop-the-loop to the next set-piece. It’s a vast pallet of vibrant colour, but, sadly, everything else is fairly monochrome.
Not a smidge on anything Pixar have done. Wonder Park is, sadly, a case of false advertising. Average Park feels far more accurate.