‘Wonder Park’ mixes fantasy and realism

“Wonder Park”

Certainly, there has been no shortage of animated movies lately, so one that has the title “Wonder Park” had better deliver on the wonders it promises.

The picture gets there a fair amount of the way, and it should be noted up front that it has a rather unsettling undercurrent in the illness suffered by the central character’s mother (voiced by Jennifer Garner). Sensitive youngsters could be quite upset by that element, which might overshadow the possible enjoyment of anything that follows, so parents are well-advised to be prepared for that.

Mom and her daughter June (whose voice is supplied by Brianna Denski) have conjured up shared thoughts of a fantastic amusement park called Wonderland, where virtually everything is possible. After her mother’s medical situation prompts her father (voiced by Matthew Broderick) to send June to camp, the girl decides to go AWOL en route and ultimately ends up at – chances are good that you’ll guess this – the actual Wonderland.

However, the place isn’t quite as magical as she and Mom envisioned it. It’s in considerable disarray, and the animals that staff it (with voices supplied by Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Ken Jeong and “Saturday Night Live’s” Kenan Thompson, among others) can use all the help in restoring it that they can get. Enter June, and the road to recovery begins, of course.

Co-produced by the cable network Nickelodeon, “Wonder Park” keeps pace with the kinds of visuals one might expect from a movie by its name. Despite the rundown look of the place in the middle portion, the segments that bookend it reflect a child’s (and, for that matter, a family’s) delight, supplying all the fun and escapism that anyone could hope for.

And yet, the realism brought into “Wonder Park” makes it a mixed experience. Not only is there the mother’s situation in story terms, but behind the scenes, allegations of misconduct by the director led to the removal of his name from the film. It’s been released without any directorial credit, something very unusual in an industry that invoked the pseudonym “Alan Smithee” (or “Allen Smithee” in some cases) for many years to cover for a filmmaker whose name was taken off a picture for one reason or another.

While the animated wonders it puts forth are within reason, “Wonder Park” has more to it, and how that impacts one’s overall impression of the movie likely will depend on the individual viewer. And, quite possibly, the viewer’s age.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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