By: Henry J. Fromage (Six Pack) –
Something was off from the start about Wonder Park– right from the gormless previews with “the critics all love it!” plastered all over them despite there being zero reviews visible online.
My mom and high school counselor count as critics, right?
Wonder Park tells the story of a mother and daughter, June, whose favorite activity is designing a spectacular amusement park named WONDERLAND which also happens to be a real place run by sentient animals taking direction from their whispered commands. When mom gets a mysterious illness that’s probably cancer, June puts away childish things, only to run away from a math camp bus and get lost in the woods to find that WONDERLAND was real all along and has fallen into dystopian disarray.
It’s clear that lots of money put into the animation and recognizable voice cast, which includes Mila Kunis, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, John Oliver, Ken Jeong, and Kenan Thompson. That scene visualizing June’s worries about her Dad living on his own while she’s at math camp is funny.
Hmm, what else? It’s only 86 minutes long. Uncredited Director and former Pixar animator Dylan Brown succeeded in following in the footsteps of his idol John Lasseter.
For all the money and loving detail put into the background and action animation, the film is unfortunately saddled with strikingly ugly character design. I mean…
Screenwriters Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec (who also collaborated on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol because life doesn’t make sense) clearly had one goal and direction- “make a Pixar movie”. So much of this film feels excruciatingly templated and transparently Pixar in intentions.
Like the Oscar-nominated-because-nobody-in-the-world-can-apparently-pick-five-deserving-shorts One Small Step, this movie further demonstrates how that Pixar magic can’t be boiled down to generic montages of love and loss.
Yeah, I get it, you grew up watching Pixar movies like fucking everyone.
It feels odd to say this because all of these things are good things and none of them are risible on their own, but this movie also feels like the most PC construct ever. From the Indian best friend and erstwhile lover Banky, to the United Colors of Benetton-but-I’m-not-sure-I-saw-a-black-one neighborhood children to the lead role being a spunky science and engineering-loving little girl lead who loves math camp, this is yet another part of the story that felt focus group-designed to an extreme, so cognizant of being politically correct that it misses the point altogether.
However, for a movie that is as designed to be as blandly inoffensive as possible, the romances in this are kinda off-putting and out of left field. Banky’s pre-pubescent pining for June appears to be played mostly for humor, as is John Oliver’s porcupine’s hots for Mila Kunis’s warthog, but the humor doesn’t hit, negating the purpose of these scenes altogether.
Steve the Porcupine, explaining how the warthog’s haunches have him all hot and bothered.
Of course, this may be due more to the issue that somehow none of the supporting characters has any interiority at all. Pixar is so good at suggesting richly rounded character backgrounds with a minimum of brushstrokes, but here everybody seemingly exists solely in the way they affect June or for the purpose of quick toss-off jokes or minimal plot progression.
<SPOILERS, LIKE YOU CARE>
Ultimately, the screenwriters/producers/nonexistent director don’t even have the balls to actually kill the Mom, so the one possible lesson the film had to offer, a big epiphany about how “the darkness will always be there”, is quickly forgotten. Nevermind all of the questions beggared about the mechanics of an illness that has Mom on death’s door, takes her completely out of the movie in the middle stretch without so much as a phone call, then has her walk back in the very picture of health. Bizarre.
Wonder Park is manufactured and strangely, almost indescribably soulless despite its surface aspirations. Nevermind the goddamn park is actually named WONDERLAND.
Wonder Park (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: “Splendiferous”! (Believe me, this will be the only one you need)