I love stories where characters save their own imagination. In movies this probably goes back to The Wizard of Oz, in literature at least Alice in Wonderland, the namesake of Wonder Park.
Perhaps it’s because these stories tell is it’s important to tell stories. That’s validating considering I’ve devoted my life to the telling of stories. Glad I haven’t wasted my life.
June (Brianna Denski, Sofia Mali when younger) makes up the amusement park Wonderland in her imagination with her mom (Jennifer Garner). When her mom gets sick, June puts her toys away until she ends up in her own imaginary Wonderland.
By the time June visits Wonderland, The Darkness has taken over. June has to team up with her own characters to bring the wonder back to Wonderland.
Speaking of stories about stories, The Neverending Story is one of my favorites. The Darkness is very much like The Nothing and it’s up to the creator’s imagination to restore the imaginary realm.
In stories like The Neverending Story, The Nothing represents adulthood as kids lose their sense of wonder and have to get it back. The Darkness is more than just June’s maturity though.
June is dealing with something that a lot of families will be going through. The scene where Mom explains that she’s sick is like the beginning of Up with dialogue.
Families should be warned that Wonder Park involves a cancer scare. As many families for whom this will help their family’s dialogue, there will be families and children who aren’t ready to go there yet.
Wonder Park is a lot darker than it’s being advertised. I always like a dark family movie and I believe that kids appreciate facing their fears and gain confidence when they see they can triumph over them. But parents know their own kids so let me inform them.
Wonderland has become an apocalyptic wasteland. Rides come to life and attack June and her animal friends. The main villains are chimpanzombies, who are adorable, but still relentless like gremlins. It’s surreal and nonlinear.
As a kid who went on every roller coaster, I dug it. These are rides that could only exist in animation (or Robert Rodriguez’s CGI Spy Kids 2) because they literally exist in a kid’s imagination.
I think the ultimate message is positive. Don’t lose your imagination, even when facing life’s very real challenges. June’s mom would want that for her.
And The Darkness doesn’t have to be eradicated. It can coexist, because we need to feel our feelings too. That message gets a little muddled so I hope parents are really prepared to talk about this after.
Your mileage may vary but I’ve got to appreciate Wonder Park’s ambition. Of course it can’t represent all families dealing with cancer. Anyone with a different experience with cancer may object. That’s valid and I just hope Wonder Park can reach the families for whom it may be tailor made.
Even before the cancer scare there are other good messages in Wonder Park. June’s neighborhood friends are a very diverse group that includes an Indian family. Bunky (Oev Michael Urbas) even says, “Thank Krishna” in the middle of a mainstream Hollywood studio family release.
June builds a ride in her backyard that most adults couldn’t conceive of. Mom’s dilemma is to keep encouraging June’s imagination but make sure she’s safe about it.
So I recommend Wonder Park because I always seek out challenging films and I love when family films can be about something real too. I’d say you can also just appreciate the jam packed epic animation, but good luck separating it from the message. It’s pretty intrinsic and powerful.
Wonder Park opens March 15.