June is a preternaturally imaginative young child obsessed with amusement parks. She spends her days constructing fanciful obstacle courses with her neighborhood friends outside and then designing a make-believe amusement park — inexplicably called Wonderland — with her mother at home. When her mother is struck ill by a mysterious disease and must leave the home for treatment, however, June’s grief suffocates her creativity and she rebels against this injustice by destroying the amusement park and retreating into a private cocoon of distrust and cynicism. As June reaches the nadir of her despondency she is magically transported to the world of Wonderland only to find that it is in the process of being destroyed by an all consuming maelstrom in the sky called The Darkness. June, with the help of her animal creations, must fight against The Darkness to rebuild Wonderland and restore it to its former glory.
This struggle serves as a perfect if not unintended metaphor for the film. Wonderland, excuse me, Wonder Park, is a confused film at war with itself that, in the end, is redeemed by the power of its own creativity and imagination.
The film’s flaws are immediately apparent. The words Wonder Park, for instance, do not appear in the entire movie. There is only Wonderland. Odd. Further, the story clearly aims for the depths of feeling and pathos captured in the early scenes of Up but misses the mark entirely. Instead we’re treated to the cinematic equivalent of a shallowly lugubrious LiveJournal sermon written by a teenager recently apprised of the fact that nature distributes her boons unevenly and that life is sad. Wonder Park, in short, is a film that needs fixing.
That fix is found in its exquisite technical brilliance and wholesome moral universe.
Wonder Park is a beautiful film. The animation is superlative, a polychromatic roller coaster of blistering texture and zesty mise-en-scène. The animal supporting cast is expertly rendered in lifelike yet whimsical vitality and the semi-titular amusement park is an exercise in iridescent psychedelic realism. It’s all very fun to look at.
It’s also profitable to think about. Children have much to consider in Wonder Park’s many moral lessons. Through June’s adventure viewers learn about the dangers of unrestrained grief, the importance of community and friendship, the power of creativity, and the necessity of active self-reflection in the project of personal character building. Family films can be forgiven such obvious didacticism. In fact, moral teachings should be encouraged in movies for kids as in the cinema we have an entertaining and captive venue to deliver these messages. Wonder Park is an uneven film but the kids might like it and might learn something from it.