The Movie Guru: ‘Wonder Park’ fun but somewhat simplistic

Jenniffer Wardell
The Movie Guru

'Wonder Park' offers kids a simple message about the power of imagination.
Photo courtesy of Paramount

Wonder Park

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action

Screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, story by Robert Gordon, Josh Appelbaum, and André Nemec

Starring Brianna Denski, Jennifer Garner, Ken Hudson Campbell, Kenan Thompson, Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Ken Jeong, Norbert Leo Butz, Matthew Broderick and more

Grade: Two stars

There’s nothing wrong with a simple, sweet animated movie for kids.

“Wonder Park” fits that bill. A magical adventure through the ultimate amusement park, it’s also a metaphor for not letting fear hold you back. On top of that, it has fun characters, a strong pro-imagination message, and trauma that never gets too traumatic. Add it all together, and you have a movie even younger kids can enjoy.

The movie is named after a magical theme park created by June (Brianna Denski) and her mother (Jennifer Garner). When her mom gets sick, however, June refuses to even think about the park and spends all her time worrying about her dad (Matthew Broderick). After a magical encounter in the middle of the woods, though, she realizes her very real amusement park is in danger. Can she save everyone before it’s too late?

Though the movie seems to be wrestling with some pretty serious issues, it’s not nearly as dark as you might expect. The “mom is sick” plot is far less traumatic than you might assume from the description, and the script is incredibly careful not to dwell on darker possibilities. On the “park is getting destroyed” plot, the army of tiny monkey dolls that are causing the destruction stay cute no matter what they do.

You could argue that the movie doesn’t go deep enough to appropriately address these issues, but there is a place for the lighter approach. The movie may start discussions with your kids on the way home, but it’s not likely to traumatize anyone.

The most impactful message of the movie, however, is about the power of imagination. This park is literally a kids’ fantasy amusement park come true, the representation of every wild idea you ever had before physics came along and ruined your fun. Instead of getting shot down, like happens so often to kids in the real world, these wild ideas are the lifeblood of the park. It’s a wonderful sense of validation and encouragement for any dreamers in the audience.

Interestingly, this element of the movie also serves as a pretty strong sales pitch to try and get girls into engineering. June builds things like she’s born to it, from a huge backyard roller coaster to an ingenious rope-and-pulley control system for a huge robot. It all looks incredibly fun, enough that even a die-hard former English major like myself kind of wished I’d paid more attention in woodshop. If it can inspire a new generation of girls to build the future, then so much the better.

And if it just gives them a nice night at the movies, that’s not so bad either.

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