REVIEW: ‘Wonder Park’ is a wonderful tale about joy during trials
March 15th, 2019 / By: Michael Foust / comments
June is a young girl with a big imagination and an even bigger smile.
Each day, she and her mother sit in June’s room and design an imaginary theme park that June “brings to life” through stuffed animals, boxes and colorful toys.
In June’s imagination, families visit a park called “Wonder Land” that is hosted by talking animals -- Boomer the blue bear, Peanut the monkey and Steve the porcupine.
And when June asks for creative help from her mom, she gets a gentle rebuff.
“I like it when the ideas come from you,” her mom says, smiling. “Now, think.”
Her make-believe theme park covers the room. Occasionally, she even designs a “real” outdoor roller coaster that stretches across the neighbors’ yards and attracts dozens of friends.
For June, life couldn't be better.
But then her mom gets deadly sick and has to visit the hospital. Sad and depressed, June packs her stuffed animals and toys into boxes and puts them away. Wonder Land, it seems, is closed for the season.
The animated movie Wonder Park (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, telling the story of a girl who loses her imagination when her favorite playmate -- her mom -- becomes ill. The film stars Jennifer Garner (Miracles From Heaven) as the mom, Brianna Denski as June, and Ken Hudson Campbell (Home Alone) as Boomer.
Wonder Park is a film that outperforms its trailer. No, it won’t be the best animated film of the year, but it includes positive messages not seen in most family films.
The animation is colorful and the funny moments truly funny. It’s also (mostly) void of potty humor. That always gets bonus points from me.
All of this makes up for a slightly disjointed plot.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)
Minimal. June accidentally rides her real-life homemade roller coaster car through traffic. In her imagination, we see animals survive a few harrowing moments on a roller coaster ride. The film’s most disturbing scene involves hundreds of “Chimpanzombies” chasing her. They look like small harmless monkeys.
None. One animal has a crush on another animal. At the end of the film, he gets a kiss on the cheek.
None. An unfinished “son of a.” Three instances of “gosh.”
Other Positive Elements
June’s mom and dad are role model parents. They love her unconditionally. The dad also tells the mom that they’re not dating enough. June’s friends and family try cheering her up when her mom becomes ill.
The film’s lessons can be understood only by revealing the plot. (Spoilers ahead!) After the mother becomes ill, June’s father sends her to summer math camp. But June runs away with the goal of hiking home through the woods. It is there that she discovers a run-down theme park called -- you guessed it -- Wonder Land. The animals tell her that the park was in operation until “the darkness” arrived. (The darkness is an eerie-looking swirling cloud in the sky.) June then works to bring Wonder Land back to life.
The symbolism is ripe. Wonder Land represents her imagination -- perhaps even her joy -- while “the darkness” represents everything that stole her joy. The darkness may even represent her.
The movie has multiple lessons: finding joy in the midst of tragedy, re-discovering your imagination, and encouraging others who are facing trials.
Wonder Park raises solid questions about tragedy, even if its answers are incomplete.
June says her mother would not want her to be sad. “She got sick … and I got scared -- so scared of losing her that I lost myself. She would hate to see how I changed,” June says.
The movie, though, doesn’t give us a remedy. It’s impossible to find true hope during trials without the hope found in Scripture (Romans 5:2-5). Christians have hope during tragedy because they have an eternal perspective that the world cannot provide.
- Have you ever experienced a trial that caused you to lose joy?
- What does the movie get right and wrong about finding joy during trials?
- What is the key to discovering joy during trials?
Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action.