June (voiced by Brianna Denski), an imaginative little girl and her Mom (Jennifer Garner) share a love of amusement parks. They spend a lot of time creating their own imaginary park called Wonderland where fun-loving talking animals lead visitors through the wildest, most magical and exhilarating rides ever seen. But when Mom falls seriously ill and has to stay in hospital, Brianna loses faith. She stops inventing crazy theme park rides and performing daredevil stunts around the neighbourhood, convinced that if you don't take any risks you can never get hurt. In an effort to cheer Brianna up her Dad (Matthew Broderick) sends her to summer camp but she runs away. Whereupon a magic ticket lures Brianna to the woods where discovers her dream park Wonderland has come to life with all of her imaginary animal friends there: Greta the wild boar (Mila Kunis), Boomer the narcoleptic blue bear (Ken Hudson Campbell), Gus and Cooper the orange beavers (Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong), and Steve (John Oliver) the nervous porcupine safety officer. Unfortunately the park is in disarray, overrun by violent critters now that chief mascot Peanut the monkey (Nobert Leo Butz) is trapped in another dimension. It falls on June to set things right.
Controversy is not something typically associated with an unassuming children’s animated fantasy, but that is exactly what befell Wonder Park. Its original director, Pixar alum Dylan Brown, was dismissed by Paramount Pictures over what the studio cites as "inappropriate and unwanted conduct." Subsequently the remaining animators finished work but each refused a director’s credit for fear it would ruin their careers. Which implies the film is an unwatchable train-wreck. And yet Wonder Park is no ghastly abomination like the infamous Foodfight (2012). Nor is it an irredeemable crass piece of commercialism like The Emoji Movie (2017). In fact, while undeniably flawed, it is heartfelt, handsomely crafted in parts and kind of charming actually.
Even if co-writer-producers Josh Applebaum and André Nemec don't fully exploit the full magic inherent in their premise they still weave an emotionally resonant story. One in which a child learns how imagination can help overcome self-doubt and everyday anxiety. June, a pleasingly tenacious, resourceful heroine has an engaging and relatable character arc that endures throughout an often chaotic narrative. As with many children's adventures June's efforts to repair her magical park are really an attempt to restore her self-belief and flagging sense of optimism. Her animal companions are more one-dimensional by comparison with the exception of the more psychologically complex if still under-characterized Peanut. Even so they are energized by the committed performances of a stellar cast. Interestingly the UK version replaces several key voice actors with the likes of social media influencers Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee, TV presenters Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford and Doctor Who star Tom Baker. With the exception of Baker, who inhabits the role of Boomer with typical gusto, they fall short of the original cast.
Elsewhere what Wonder Park lacks in coherence it makes up for with bravura visual imagination. Colourful, energetic and propelled with an aptly childlike sense of wonder the animation overcomes the occasional fumbled plot beats and conveys the story’s core celebration of wild unfettered creativity.