It was about midway through Wonder Park, and the little boy behind me and three seats over had already had his fill. He let out a bloodcurdling, paint-peeling scream. “I want race cars!!!” His mother shushed him, which only served to set a fire in the boy’s threenager heart. He took his 80oz bucket of Mr. Pibb and emptied it onto the theater floor. The soda ran down the sloping surface, forming a sugary, slushy landslide. The kid then summoned an unholy amount of power from his tiny lungs: “Race cars!!!!” Mortified, the mother scooped up her brood and bolted out as if she had just pulled off a jewel heist.
This little shrieking Pazuzu may’ve been the most passionate, but he certainly wasn’t the only fidgety spinner in the theater. Kids jabbered and yawned throughout the entire film. If a movie like Wonder Park just has to work hard enough not to get fired, I can testify for an entire room of kindergartners who gave it a pink slip. The visuals are pretty, but the story is pretty boring.
The plot centers on June Bailey (Breanna Denski), an intrepid young dreamer who builds a model amusement park in her bedroom. Her amiable parents (Jennifer Garner and Matthew Broderick, maybe the WASPiest coupling on Earth) encourage her to flesh out this fantasy world with a clique of whimsical animals. This suburban idyll is punctured when June’s mother becomes ill and has to travel for treatment. Despondent, June abandons her quirky invention and copes with neurotic overprotectiveness for her father and compulsive cleanliness for their house. One day, June abandons a trip to summer camp and retreats into the woods. She stumbles onto a very real incarnation of her fantasy park. Unfortunately, June’s neglect has allowed an evil horde of smiling chimpanzees (you read that right) to invade and harass her cutesy creations. Now, June must reconnect with her dormant imagination and rally her adorable companions.
Wonder Park definitely had the potential to be Diet Pixar, but it’s missing the panache and self-assured dorkiness that make those movies so magical. The best animated films have something on the menu for kids and adults, and this one has a little bit for both, but not nearly enough for either. The jokes fall flat; the story drags on, even at 85 minutes. A talented cast of voice performers do what they can, but this gumbo needs a lot more spice. You might think Wonder Park will be just entertaining enough to get by, but I would advise caution. One mother thought that, and ended up wading through a river of imitation Dr. Pepper. It might be better just to skip straight to the race cars.
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