“Wonder Park” is easily the most beautifully animated film ever to come out under the Paramount Animation/Nickelodeon nameplate.
But this fanciful childs-eye-view of her “dream” theme park and all the rides and activities that might entail is so oddly devoid of magic, so starved for laughs or delights, as to make you question if those were even what the filmmakers were going for. Because unless it’s anime, as everybody but animation fangirls and fanboys know, pretty pictures aren’t enough.
It fails, in the current parlance, to “spark joy.”
The screenwriters of the recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboots wrote it, and big names from Mila Kunis and Jennifer Garner to Ken Jeong, Matthew Broderick and Kenan Thompson voiced the characters. As it’s built around a tweenage girl dealing with her mother’s life-threatening illness and interacting with the imaginary mascot critters of her imaginary theme park, you’d think laughs and sentiment and warm grins were the object here.
Still, as few to none are forthcoming…
June (Brianna Denski) always had a favorite story at bedtime. It was about the fun, mishaps and imaginative rides and attractions at a theme park the two of them dreamed up. “Wonderland” features “Clockwork Swings” and “Fireworks Falls, “Zero G-Land” and the like.
June has “Future Imagineer” written all over her, as she spends her days making mock-ups of the rides and theme park areas out of cardboard, drinking straws and the like.
As she gets older, she organizes the area kids into neighborhood-wrecking soap-box loop-the-loop courses out of whatever they can scavenge or break-off and “borrow.”
Then Mom (Garner) gets sick. Wonderland goes into the fireplace. Indulgent Dad (Broderick) isn’t listening to the advice the authorities are handing down — “Military school!” But he’s got to keep June occupied while her mother is in the hospital. “Math Camp” is the answer.
Her Milhouse-nerdy Indian-American pal (Oev Michael Urbas) is thrilled, because he has a crush on her, loves math and this means he won’t be her crash-test dummy any more.
“I’m ALIVE! Thank Krishna!”
But before they even get to Camp Awe+Sum, almost before the campers get through the delightful “Pi Song” (the never ending ratio) and June can blurt “Holy Hypotenuse!” she’s made a break for home.
This is a mistake, as Camp Awe+Sum is the cleverest conceit in the movie, worth a kids’ film all by itself.
In the woods, she stumbles across the magical remains of “the REAL Wonderland,” where the mascots she and mom made up — a wart hog (Mila Kunis), a “delayed hibernation disorder” big blue bear (Ken Hudson Campbell), beaver twins (Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong) and a porcupine — are running for their lives from licensed merchandise dolls gone wrong.
Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz) is the chimp who charms guests at the gate, whose literal “magic” marker invents the park’s crazy rides, but who now has gone missing as dolls made from his character, “chimpan-zombies,” are dismantling the park and chasing the mascots toward a swirling fireplace-smoke vortex — “The Darkness.”
June, whom they come to learn is their creator and perhaps the source of their doom, must sort this out and save Wonderland.
The sentimentality attached to a little girl, lashing out about having a sick mom and having to make right what her tossing Wonderland into the fireplace hath wrought, is lukewarm at best.
The action beats are colorful and dazzling theme-park rides run amok. Frenetic action substitutes for wit, here.
The laughs? They all come from that porcupine, voiced by HBO’s John Oliver (“Last Week Tonight”) in a performance shockingly free of F-bombs and koala chlamydia gags. Every line to burble out of his Limey mouth is a stitch, from his order to “Stand DOWN, I say” to his poetically expressed love for Greta the wart hog and her “come-hither tusks.”
Must be the voice. He was born to do cartoons.
As “Wonder Park” has gone through release dates and title changes, with plans for a spinoff TV series already in the works, the film’s general mirthlessness can be traced to a boardroom, not merely hack screenwriting.
It’s a commodity, intended to become a branded property, a “Jimmy Neutron” (which also became a TV series) without a proper, fun, buzzed-about cartoon film to launch it with.
And what do we know about commodities? They’re “produced,” just like “Wonder Park.” No wonder it has no credited director.
MPAA Rating: PG
Cast: The voices of Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Kenan Thompson, Mila Kunis, Matthew Broderick, Ken Jeong and yes, John Oliver
Credits:Directed by no one, apparently. Script by John Appelbaum and Andre Nemec. A Paramount/Nickelodeon release.
Running time: 1:25