Wonder Park

Back at the start of the year, the Lambcast devoted an episode to making Box Office predictions for the year and we currently have a draft going. The truth is there is no point in voting for the draft because the winner is determined by the outcome of actual box office returns. Why you might ask, is this the subject at the start of a review of today’s animated film? It’s simple, “Wonder Park” was one of the films I chose for my draft. Here is my dilemma however, three of my films are opening within a week of each other, and two of them on the same day. “Captain Marvel” will earn me plenty of dollars in the Box Office derby, but my two films this week are likely to be a bust. “Marvel” is going to dominate again this weekend, and after seeing both of the other films I despair. Not because they are bad films, they are simply not going to draw a crowd. “Captive State” is too slow and intellectual to pull in many folks, and I think “Wonder Park” is so much more a kids film that only the little ones will bother to come out, and their parents may chose the Captain over the Park.

This animated film from Paramount is a serviceable film for a young audience. It has some inventive visuals and a little bit of character flair going for it, but that is all. The humor is mostly coy and not the kind of slap stick that kids will flock to. There is also nothing in the humor that speaks to adults, the parents who are going to be bringing their kids. This movie turns out to be so conventional that it will hardly be remembered after being seen.

At the heart of the story is a theme of imagination being encouraged. As much as the Comic Book movie dominating the theaters now is about female empowerment, so is this. June, the little girl who is the main character, has an imagination as big as all outdoors. Along with encouragement from her mother, she has visualized an elaborate them park with rides that seem exactly the kind of thing that kids would want to do. Forget the impractical, let’s just have some fun, and no one should fault them for that. June has integrated her toys into the park as well, making her stuffed animals pivotal elements of the park. She of course suffers from the same disease that all kids do at some point in these kinds of movies, a lack of faith in what she is doing.

The key turn in June’s enthusiasm comes in the form of an unnamed illness that threatens to take her mother away from her. As is usual in these movies, Dad is supportive but ineffectual. His attempts at reassurance and encouragement are met with a severe case of seriousness and anxiety by the child.  Somehow, the whole situation gets confronted by the discovery of the real park version of her imagined plans. The creeping decay of the park is much like the story in “The Never Ending Story” As a child despairs, the fantasy world they have created is threatened. You can almost certainly predict where things are going to go from there.

I did like the neighbor kid who is June’s friend Banky. You don’t see a lot of Indian-American characters in films aimed at kids and this is a rewarding change of pace. Also, there is not a local bully, hovering over the proceedings, all the emotion turmoil is self inflicted. The story of a child creating something real out of her imagination is the kind of thing we should encourage. I was reminded of “Caine’s Arcade” and the inventiveness of children when June and Banky launch their homemade roller coaster.  But other than the underdeveloped Chimpanzombies, there is not much to hold a kids attention. There is also a big sadness hanging over the movie.  Parents taking their kids to see this, may have to reassure them on their own health.

The movie is simply not inspiring or funny enough to succeed. It is not a bad film but rather a mediocre one that I unfortunately put my hopes in. I really wish I’d been able to draft “The Secret Life of Pets 2”.

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