de facto film reviews 1.5 stars

Imagination is something that every kid has. There is no question about that. When you’re young, you’re view of the world isn’t as well-rounded as when you’re an adult. As a result, you believe that anything is possible. If you have the belief that you can do something, or something really exists, you think that it is real. This is something that, thanks to things like the Internet, is disappearing in today’s kids. Why would they imagine something when they can just look it up on Google?

Nevertheless, imagination still runs through kids’ veins, especially in the case of June Bailey (Brianna Denski). She uses her imagination to create a miniature amusement park with her mother (Jennifer Garner), called Wonderland. They work together to create many fantastical rides that are overseen by a cast of stuffed animal mascots. It’s the one thing in the world that keeps them together.

However, as June gets older and her mother progressively succumbs to cancer, she finds herself less interested in her fantasy world and more in the real world. Her father’s attempts to reignite her wonder lead her into the woods, where she finds herself transported to a real world version of Wonderland. Meeting up with her old animal companions, she must help them defeat a dark force that has taken over the park and restore it to its former glory.

This film is meant to spin-off into its own television series on Nickledeon later this year. It’s been sometime since Nick implemented this strategy in one of their properties, the last being the 2006 film Barnyard (becoming Back at the Barnyard). The best show to come out of this strategy is arguably The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (spun-off from the 2000 film of the same name). But does Wonder Park have the components to compete with these two properties.

In this reviewer’s opinion, that would have to be a resounding “no.” Wonder Park has colorful animation and kiddy humor to keep little kids entertained, but in terms of takeaways for the adults, there isn’t much of any real value. The main problem being the film’s lack of a strong story, descent characters, or anything of any real expansion for the upcoming series. There just isn’t that much here, and the final product feels about as corporate as a film can get.

Despite the animation looking pretty at times, there isn’t anything truly remarkable about it. The character designs almost fully resemble other characters seen in other films and shows, especially the animals. They look like stock models taken from other properties. The world of Wonderland is colorful, but only fits the brightly colored requirements that any family film needs to keep the kids looking at the screen.

There’s also nothing all that remarkable about the voice acting either. Denski does her best to try and voice the character of June, but she slips at times. She doesn’t give a good performance throughout the entirety of the film. Same goes for the rest of the cast, who are surprisingly bland given the talent assembled here. Even Mila Kunis, who is known for some very charismatic roles, voices her character with little to no true emotion. You never get the sense that she enjoys voicing the role.

This is also not helped by the fact that the characters aren’t the most original. Just like in their designs, they all seem like stock cutouts from other characters from other Nickelodeon shows. June is your basic imaginative young girl with loads of energy and optimism. The animal mascots fit the basic requirements for sidekick animal characters found in most kid shows, including the bossy leader, the neat-freak, the goofy comic reliefs, the lazy one, etc. We’ve seen all these characters done before, and in much better ways, too.

The story of Wonder Park is also a lacking department, because there isn’t much of one. It has a basic setup that follows a lot of similar stories in family films, and when June finally reaches the park, there’s not much to follow. It’s very fast-paced with not much happening over the course of its 85 minute runtime. It was hard enough to write that plot summary above without giving too much away.

This film’s very existence just doesn’t feel right. A lot of movies these days are produced by hired writers, concocted by studio heads looking to cash in. This film is a prime example of that feeling. It doesn’t feel like it’s anybody’s idea, and that it only exists to jumpstart a new Nickelodeon franchise. The fact that the director isn’t credited as well (I do know the real reason why) also adds to the corporate feel. This leaves the movie feeling ultimately empty in the end.

Wonder Park feels like the product of a company, with nothing real distinct to set it apart from similar stories. Couple that with the weak story, unremarkable animation and voice cast, and nothing of any real value for adults, and you’ve got a film that leaves a lot to be desired. Because of how little there truly was, it’s hard to see how they will expand it into a full series, and the fact that they are sticking with the established CG animated look of the film doesn’t give much hope either. Kids will probably get a kick out of it, but adults may find themselves less than entertained.