Perhaps the most baffling thing about Wonder Park is that the wonder park in Wonder Park isn’t called Wonder Park. Instead it’s called Wonderland. Perhaps it’s to avoid confusion with the Lewis Carroll-verse or Michael Winterbottom’s 1999 vision of lonely London life. We’ll never know. But it’s just one of a number of things that doesn’t sit right about this frenetic and frazzled animated flick. Original filmmaker Dylan Brown was removed for “inappropriate and unwanted conduct” in 2018 (it’s a rare film released without any directorial credit) and it is ultimately impossible to know how this move impacted the finished film. But, for whatever reason, there is at once a lack of restraint and an over-eagerness to please that does little to enhance the already complicated conceit at the film’s core.
Wonderland is an imaginary theme park dreamed up by eight-year-old June (voiced by Denski), a likeable, resourceful budding Imagineer, and her mom (Garner). Together they’ve cooked up some cool shit — best of the bunch is the Sky Flinger which loads punters into one of those Jurassic World spheres and lobs it over to the other side of the park. They’ve also come up with a clutch of talking, supposedly-loveable talking animals to run the attractions: kingpin chimp Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), a narcoleptic bear (Tom Baker in the UK version) who falls asleep at the worst moments (the film’s best gag), a nervy porcupine (John Oliver), a control freak warthog (Mila Kunis) and maintenance beavers (vloggers Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee replacing Ken Jeong and Kenan Thompson).
For the most part the pace is too hectic.
So far so high concept (what if a bunch of crazy animals ran Alton Towers?). But the premise gets another layer. June’s mom gets sick (sounds like cancer though it’s never specified) and dad (Matthew Broderick) packs her off to summer camp where, straying off the beaten track, she discovers a version of Wonderland come to life. Yet this one has a dark cloud over it, like Thorpe Park with a hangover. Peanut has gone AWOL, the rest of the workers are depressed and the park is overrun with hordes of chimpanzombies. It’s left to June to revive the park’s fortunes and save the day.
If you haven’t guessed, what’s going on here in dark Wonderland is a big old metaphor for June’s mindset as she struggles with her mom’s illness (Peanut = June, chimpanzombies = cancer cells). While it’s a welcome sentiment to tell youngsters you have to go through darkness to appreciate the light, it’s too abstract an idea to fully take hold. There’s some goodness here — early doors June recreates a Wonderland ride in the real world and it’s a fun set-piece — but for the most part the pace is too hectic, the characters too generic and the animation too blah to register. To paraphrase a certain Alan Grant, after careful consideration we’ve decided not to endorse Wonder Park.