'Wonder Park' is an animated family film about June, a precocious and creative girl whose life changes dramatically when her mother develops a serious illness. When she gets lost in the woods en route to math camp, June finds herself in Wonderland, a fantastic theme park exactly like one she had devised while playing with her mother, populated by an excitable cast of talking animals. However, Wonderland has fallen into disrepair and is under threat from a mysterious storm cloud - The Darkness - and a hoard of chimpanzombies (which, yes, are chimpanzee zombies). With the fate of Wonderland in her hands, June must save the park from being totally consumed.
It's ironic that, for a film that celebrates the imagination and innovation of its protagonist, 'Wonder Park'' is completely lacking in either. The story hits predictable beats, but slightly out of time - even at a brisk 86 minutes, the film has pacing issues and somehow still feels too long. With its message of learning to cope with the sadness - or 'darkness' - that one inevitably encounters in life, as well as the film being set predominantly in a fantasy inner world, the film owes a clear debt to 'Inside Out', or even at times to 'Coco'. Pixar better call its goons and get the baseball bats out, because that debt is never getting paid back.
While many classic family films have melancholic underlying themes, usually relating to the protagonist's coming of age, 'Wonder Park' fails to neatly link these elements to the ongoing action in any meaningful way. The result of this is a lot of the symbolism is empty, or doesn't track: while the dark cloud clearly represents June's mother's illness, the way in which this is overcome doesn't really offer any moral takeaway or life lesson. June doesn't have a clear arc, and what she accomplishes in Wonderland doesn't really meaningfully affect her life afterwards. This is where it becomes clear that vaguely-defined peril should not be confused with subtlety.
It's hard to identify an audience for this film, too. While younger children may enjoy some of the film's lively, bright animation and the handful of sequences that are actually based around animals running a theme park, the film's sadder and more distressing elements risk upsetting - or worse, boring - them. Older children and adults will be hard-pressed to find anything amusing, original or even sensible about 'Wonder Park.' The voice acting is passable, largely unremarkable, although it's impossible not to hear John Oliver's pompous porcupine Steve as a warm-up for his role as Zazu in The Lion King.
'Wonder Park' might make you feel like you've been on a merry-go-round for too long. You've seen it all before, but it was fresher the first time, and now you're slightly nauseous.