MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Before you purchase a ticket and take your children to Wonder Park, take a moment to view the colorful poster or still frames taken from the movie. Now envision what these characters might do and say and the wonderful adventures they might have. I guarantee that your imagined movie is three times more interesting than the actual film Wonder Park.
The premise of this movie, after all, is a 10-year-old girl’s imagined fantasy park. June “Junebug” (Brianna Denski) and her enthusiastic Mom (Jennifer Garner) spend hours drawing elaborate plans for Wonderland together. June is a precocious STEM engineer and can get her Brainiac friends to cobble together a backyard thrill ride in which she is the test pilot. When this contraption sends her hurling into downtown traffic and ruining some of the neighbors’ yards there is a mild scolding and Dad (Matthew Broderick) whipping out his checkbook to make things right (not the greatest moral message, regardless of its practicality).
June’s flights of fancy are brought to a screeching halt when her mom gets really sick and has to travel to a bigger hospital for the summer for treatments. There is a realistic scene of grief in which June, in her rage, throws their plans for Wonderland into the fireplace. Her world is shattered and she is soon on a bus with her friends to Math Camp. En route, June designs a scheme that stops the bus long enough for her to leave and head homeward through the woods. Lo and behold, she discovers the Wonderland of her dreams, in disrepair and neglect, and the imaginary animal creations that she created beset with an onslaught of toy monkey prizes turned into destructive chimpanzombies.
June joins forces with the narcoleptic bear Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), British porcupine Steve (John Oliver) and Greta, a good-hearted Warthog (Mila Kunis). The gang goes on a quest to find Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), the chimpanzee who once ran the show but is now in hiding from the dark forces tearing the park apart.
There are all kinds of possible scenarios at work here: A hero’s journey for June; park renovation requiring teamwork and know-how; a love story between Steve and Greta, and (most prominent) the theme of June working through grief and fear to come out on the other side. But everything is so busy, messy and unfocused the film can’t stay on a steady course for anything. It doesn’t help that the main animal characters are one-note types without any charm. And the evil forces are more like benign mini-machines rather than the malignant forces they are meant to represent.
It’s a crazy mashup, resembling Pixar’s Inside Out combined with The Wizard of Oz. Parents need to know that the scenes of grief and sadness are short and the menacing monkeys aren’t very scary. But – most of all – families need to know that this movie is slipshod and boring.
Skip the movie, buy the toys and make things up as you play together. You’ll have fun and arrive at the same conclusion as Wonder Park with 85 minutes to spare.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: Good intentions are not enough to make a good film, but there’s a positive message about creativity and imagination hidden behind the Ferris Wheel.
One pitchfork: Scenes of honest grief, mitigated by distractions.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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