Review by Adrina Palmer
“Wonder Park” tells the story of a magnificent amusement park where the imagination of a wildly creative girl named June comes alive.
While “Wonder Park” may appear to be just another cutesy movie for kids, the plot includes a bit of trauma and heartbreak. The plot also includes a powerful way to help children overcome hardship and find their own inner strength. Honestly, the plot didn’t appeal to me but the lesson disguised as a cartoon did. Young children will ignore the lesson for the imaginative amusement park and cute animals but parents and older children will pick up on the subtle undertones. You may recognize a few famous voices including Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, Kenan Thompson, Mila Kunis, John Oliver, and Ken Jeong too.
June (Sofia Mali and Brianna Denski) loves amusement parks. Not just going to parks but creating rides and all the magic in a park. With her parents’ help, especially her mother, voiced by Jennifer Garner, she turns her house into a miniature wonderland. She bands together with the other kids in the neighborhood and turns the whole street into a rollercoaster ride. Her mother has a way of pulling June’s imaginative ideas out of the recesses of her brain and bringing them to life. Then the worst happens.
When her mother gets sick and goes away to get treatment, June believes she has lost the best part of her imagination. She cleans up every scrap of her daydream amusement park. The Ferris wheel, blueprints, even the mascot stuffed animals end up in boxes to gather dust in the garage. Instead of imagining the most magnificent park, June switches to obsessing over her father’s health to make sure he doesn’t befall the same fate as her mother. Dad, looking for some peace and a little bit of junk food forces June to go on to a summer camp previously planned before her mother became ill.
Once at the camp, June stumbles upon her fairytale park brought to life in the middle of the forest. Even the hedgehog, bear, warthog, and chimp she created to run the park are there. The park though is a wasteland covered in vines and broken down rides with a storm cloud looming over the sad grounds. June follows the animals and learns how one day the darkness showed up like an unwanted guest, broke the park into shambles and stayed to feast on the remains. Now they must work together to find a way to repair the park and stop the reign of tiny evil stuffed animals.
The stuffed chimps do not want to just destroy the park but to take the creatures and now June into the darkness to hold captive forever. The goofy animals guide June to safety as she watches the work of her imagination laid to waste. She finds her way to an old friend and works to bring the evil little toys to justice and return the park to its former glory. Finally, the answers smack her in the face and the group return to their previous roles as park operators and June returns home to share her breakthrough with her father.
The animals did nothing for me but the park was imaginative and fun. June’s parents should have given her a sibling though. They doted on her to the point of having no lives themselves and June never learned to become her own person until her mother became sick. Beyond family dynamic, the plot was amusing. It was less about the amusement park than about the internal battle June faced when her mother’s mortality came into question.
To find a movie with a purpose beyond entertainment is rare these days. For once, this is a message valuable to viewers without a political song and dance. Just a way of coping with difficult emotions and finding inner strength, both skills children are often ill-equipped to deal with and a little help is well warranted. A few things were missing though.
During the second half of the movie – the part where June is in her park – the characters don’t mesh. The movie stalls with little sense but that of emotions. A brave path but difficult to string into sense. That’s okay though, they didn’t try to make too much sense of the inner imagination of June’s mind. If you can forgive this small loss of momentum, the rest of the movie is sweet and fun to watch. Children will enjoy the semi-funny animals because the park is quite epic.
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