“WONDER PARK” — 2 1/2 stars — Voices of Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Ken Hudson Campbell, Mila Kunis, Norbert Leo Butz; PG (mild thematic elements and action); in general release; running time: 85 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — “Wonder Park” aims to inspire amazement, and while there are some thoughtful moments about a child trying to cope with a family illness, the movie doesn't make it much beyond provoking indifference.
June (voiced by Brianna Denski) is a young girl whose creativity is matched only by her ambition. Her dream is to build and operate an amusement park called Wonderland. Assisted by her best friend Banky (Oev Michael Urbas) and some kids in the neighborhood, June manages to construct a rudimentary full-scale ride that weaves its way through various homes on their block. But when the test run proves disastrous, June’s mother (Jennifer Garner) convinces her to rescale her efforts to more of a living room size design.
The new project becomes a joint venture between June and her mother, and features the kind of creative and innovative features only a kid could dream up. But when Mom gets sick and has to leave home for treatment, June loses all passion for the project and sinks into despair.
Hoping to cheer her up, June’s father (Matthew Broderick) sends her to a summer math camp, but she winds up ditching the bus and running off into the woods, where she stumbles onto the ruins of an amusement park with some familiar features.
Slowly June realizes that she has somehow traveled into a full scale, real-life manifestation of the park she and her mother had designed. All the Wonderland rides are present, as well as the park’s caretakers, which had been played by her various stuffed animals.
There’s the blue bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), a spunky warthog named Greta (Mila Kunis), a porcupine named Steve (John Oliver) and a pair of beavers (Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong). Normally, the show is run by an energetic chimpanzee named Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), but Peanut is missing.
According to Greta and co., the park was running full steam until something called The Darkness showed up in the sky and started to devour Wonderland piece by piece. Peanut hasn’t been seen since he set out to confront the mysterious cloud that is ruining everything. June discerns that by abandoning the project, she has caused the damage, and determines to somehow make things right.
As a concept, “Wonder Park’s” exploration of childhood grief and coping mechanisms is thoughtful, if clunky in execution. It’s also touching to see how June becomes very concerned and protective of her father after her mother leaves to begin treatment. There are some mature ideas here for audiences able to understand what is happening.Comment on this story
There’s also some fun animation work on the screen, particularly in the exciting and creative action sequences like the ride test near the beginning of the film. Other elements are a bit more hit and miss, though, like the lackluster story and a series of supporting characters that feel very interchangeable and forgettable.
Altogether, “Wonder Park” has enough nice elements to justify a look, but not at full ticket price. Parents might want to keep this one for a discount Tuesday or matinée, especially in light of some of the better first-run options playing in theaters right now.
Rating explained: “Wonder Park” is rated PG for some animated action and adult themes.