For a PG-rated film with bright, cheerful animation, Wonder Park is a surprisingly dark time at the movies.
Coincidentally borrowing from its fellow weekend releases, the year’s first children’s film not involving plastic bricks from Denmark combines Captive State’s Trojan Horse concept — at least in covertly delivering heavy messages — with the life-threatening illness focus of Five Feet Apart for a simplistic but optimistic look at cancer.
Caught in these unexpectedly complex circumstances is preteen June (voiced by relative newcomer Brianna Denski), a brainy only child whose progressiveness as the film’s lead is fortified by multiple Indian-American neighborhood friends, namely the not-so-secretly adoring Banky (Oev Michael Urbas).
Along with her mother (Jennifer Garner, further typecasting herself on the domestic front), June concocts wild rides for their ambitious make-believe theme park Wonderland, whispering the concepts into the ear of her stuffed animal monkey Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz, Better Living Through Chemistry).
June then imagines her architectural conduit in the dream world, seeing the creative plans through with his literal magic marker — bling that would make Kanye West jealous — while his fellow anthropomorphic colleagues entertain their appreciative visitors and captive viewers alike.
But when her mom becomes sick to the point of being sent away for special treatments and with June slated to attend a summer math camp, her purportedly incapable father (Matthew Broderick) — who eerily resembles Tasty Beverage Co. owner Johnny Bellflower — will be left alone to trash the house with empty pizza boxes, at least as she humorously imagines.
Unwilling to abide such outcomes, June miraculously (a bit overly so) escapes from the camp bus, starts her trek homeward, and suddenly finds herself in Wonderland, kicking into high gear imagery far trippier than the average kiddie fare — especially the cute but nefarious chimpanzombies that are systematically destroying the park — yet also consistently pleasing to the eye.
Improbably in the realm of her own creation, having fallen on hard times also caused by her own hand, she joins forces with animals voiced by the nicely diverse cast of Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong and Ken Hudson Campbell (Santa from Home Alone) in a series of exciting set pieces to restore the attraction to its former glory.
Packed with both requisite dopey pop songs that cater to its target audience and advanced math and other highbrow references that are likely to fly over its developing heads, Wonder Park hits theaters with some notoriety due to its lack of a credited director.
While Dylan Brown, a former Pixar animator with Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille on his resumé, was fired from his feature directorial debut after multiple allegations of “inappropriate and unwanted behavior,” the film is just barely worth taking credit for, so a bit of self-sabotage isn’t entirely out of the question.
Grade: C-plus. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Paramount Pictures)