Sunday, March 17, 2019

Wonder Park - Not An E-Ticket Ride

In 2014, development on an animated feature by Paramount Animation called Amusement Park began, eventually getting its name changed to Wonder Park. While I had been updated on its development, what got me interested in seeing this movie was a series of character designs and storyboards for older versions of it disclosed by two people that worked on it across two different seminars I had attended, one of which was a character design seminar hosted by David Colman, referred to internally as “patient zero” due to remaining on staff the longest through the most director/story changes before finally leaving (in the final product, he is credited as a Story Artist). When the film was finally approaching release, the trailers and critic scores didn’t exactly exude much confidence (not helped by it having a similar run time to the panned Sherlock Gnomes and The Emoji Movie, that being under 90 minutes), however I was determined to see it anyway to see how it all turned out. I ended up liking the movie, though it wasn’t exactly one of the best animated films I had seen.

A fantastical amusement park known as Wonderland is populated by a group of talking animals who interact with guests and help maintain the attractions, with one of them, a monkey named Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), responsible for all the amazing rides. This turns out to be the product of the imagination of a girl named June (Sofia Mali) and her mother (Jennifer Garner), who whisper directions into the ear of a stuffed monkey named Peanut as they come up with new rides to add to the park. Years later, when June’s mother is diagnosed with cancer and has to be away to get treatment, June (Brianna Denski) shuts herself off from Wonderland, with her father (Matthew Broderick) eventually sending her to Math Camp to try and help her nervous energy. After June manages to escape the bus to Math Camp, she stumbles on a rollercoaster car in the woods that leads to Wonderland, which is now under threat of darkness.

From having seen what the movie might have been like in development material, it was interesting to see what did and did not make the final cut; this, however, did not affect what I thought of the story they ended up with. While not entirely original, the story is still told really well, as there are some genuinely emotional and funny moments. The pacing is a little fast as well, though fortunately it didn’t really impact the storytelling too much. That said, when June is interacting with her animal friends, there are a few places where they could have potentially slowed the pacing slightly to allow for more gravity.

The casting choices might be questionable depending on the viewer, though they carried the story well enough for what it was. I will say though that regarding the beaver brothers Gus (Kenan Thompson) and Cooper (Ken Jeong), considering this movie was co-produced by Nickelodeon, there was a huge missed opportunity to have Cooper be voiced by Kel Mitchell.

The animation is very well-done and complements the world perfectly. The characters, especially the animals, are very well designed, which may be at least partially attributed to David Colman’s involvement, and the color palette works well with the tone of the story, as it seemed to be tied more to June’s emotional state at the time. If not for some of the more fantastical (and potentially dangerous) attractions, you’d almost want to believe Wonderland could be made into a real park as it seems to capture the spirit of a child’s imagination pretty well.

That said, the ending credits were honestly some of the worst put-together I have ever seen. The credits themselves were well-placed, though some of the colors did not work well against a plain white backdrop. There is some animation that plays during the credits, however it is done in the form of badly-edited .gifs of some of the characters that resemble something you’d find on the early internet or one of those stock .gifs you might see on a high school teacher’s PowerPoint presentation.

In a rather unusual side note, the movie has no credited director due to director Dylan Brown being accused of misconduct and let go from the project. (And that’s all I have to say about that.)

Wonder Park is overall a good movie, though it’s far from the best. The animation is definitely the highlight of the product, with some decent voice acting and music to carry it, though the pacing goes a little fast and some places could’ve been slowed down a little to extend the runtime past the 90-minute mark. That said, it makes for some harmless entertainment and might be enough to hold someone over until a better-looking animated feature comes out. Considering how the final product turned out, it’ll also be interesting to see how Nickelodeon will handle its plans to turn the feature into an animated series later this year.

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