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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Wonder Park, Review: Who said it can’t be done?

Wonder Park, Review: Who said it can’t be done?

Released in the USA with a PG certificate, Wonder Park is about an imaginary amusement park created by the imagination of a 10-year old girl and her mother.  It tweaks logic and science to create fantastical rides and talking animals, making conventional amusement parks look like child’s play. It’s good holiday viewing for the 5-12 age-group, with a riot of colours and exciting thrills, causing adrenaline rushes, with the help of computer animation at its state-of-the-art level.

Cameron ‘June’ Bailey, who had actually created a trial version of Wonderland in her neighbourhood, loses her sense of imagination and wonder after her mother falls ill. She gives up modelling the park and adding features, burns the paper drawings and pop-up scrap-book, and agrees to go to math camp, which she desperately wanted to avoid earlier. While travelling in the bus, she realises that her father might not be able to look after himself in the absence of her mother, and that she should be around, to help out. With the help of her best friend, Banky, she manages to get the bus stopped and sneaks away when nobody is looking. Suddenly, a part of her drawing paper, that was not burnt in the fire and flew away, floats across. She begins to chase it, and it keeps drifting away, until she finds a real Wonderland in the woods: replete, resplendent and rivetting.

But unlike the daughter-mother home creation, all is not well in this real Wonderland. Most of the rides have stopped working and huge dark clouds hover above it, like a malevolent monster. What is more, the stuffed toy Chimps have now become Chimpanzombies. Luckily, the six animals, who she calls the Wonders in Wonderland, are still around, except for Peanut, the chimpanzee who makes the rides when the method is whispered in his ear by a mystery voice (June’s, who else’s)? Peanut seems to have been killed by the Chimpanzombies. Boomer, the narcoleptic (having a tendency to fall asleep often and without warning), huge blue bear, Cooper and Gus, the beaver brothers, Greta, the wild boar (wart-hog) and Steve, the British sounding porcupine, who is a stickler for rules and a thorn in your side if you rub him the wrong way. Steve loves Greta. June needs to team up with the animals to stop the destruction of Wonderland by Chimpanzombies, get the rides operational again, drive away the ominous clouds and bring Wonderland back to life.

Three writers have worked on the script of Wonder Park: Screenplay is credited to Josh Appelbaum (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and André Nemec while the story comes from Robert Gordon, Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec. It is not clear why the PG certificate was granted, but two story points could be to blame: firstly, June wrecks her neighbourhood while trying out her model park outdoors, and secondly, June’s mother is suffering from a serious disease, though the word cancer is never uttered in the film. Neither is the word Wonder Park! Strange? Apparently, the producers, Paramount, Nickelodeon and Spain’s Ilion Animation Studio, were playing safe, just in case the estate of the children’s fiction writer, late Lewis Carroll, found Wonderland to be an infringement of their copyright to the word, as used in his iconic book Alice in Wonderland.

There’s more. Wonder Park, originally titled Amusement Park, was first announced on November 10, 2015. It is the most expensive animated film made in Spain. In April 2018, the title was changed from Amusement Park to Wonder Park. Now comes the big news: there is no credit for the director. You see, Wonder Park‘s original director Dylan Brown was removed from the production following allegations of “inappropriate and unwanted conduct,” after he had shot the major portion of the film. The producers then brought in Cow and Chicken creator David Feiss, Clare Killner and Robert Iscove, to complete the film. Now if they gave credit to these three, they would also have to give credit to Dylan, because he had done bulk of the work. So, they took the easy way out and dropped the credit altogether.

Easily the main attractions of the Park are the train tracks, shaped like a giant octopus’ tentacles, and the skyflinger that hurls out globular bubbles, with visitors in them, only to be grabbed by another claw like clamp some metres away. Some more examples are the fish carousel and zero G (gravity) land. Few children would have their imagination running wilder than this. June’s plight will resonate with so many young ones who get traumatised when confronted with terminal illnesses of their parents or siblings. Animation is clean, with rubbery, clay-like humans and toy-like, winsome animals. Perspective, magnification and angles are cleverly chosen and rendered. Dialogue is written keeping in mind that puns and witticisms, even that mother of all humorous dialogue, the one-liners, would make little sense to the target audience. “They said it could not be done,” says maxi-eyed June, defiantly. Somebody retorts from behind, “Who’s they?” “It’s just an expression,” replies June, “Don’t bug me with technicalities.”

Music by Steven Price, cinematography by Juan García Gonzalez and editing by Edie Ichioka are of a high calibre.

At 85 minutes, the proceedings run through smoothly, with enough juice to keep the developing minds of pre-teens viewers alive and engaged. Perhaps a warning, Don’t Try This At Home, should have run as a ticker throughout the film, as a mark of extra caution. Too much of a good thing can be too much for impressionable grey cells, and unmanageable for realistic parents. On the other hand, in an era where even 3D (the film is in real 3D) and Virtual Reality (VR) are in danger of getting outdated anytime now, what is a ride or two, in an imaginary amusement park?  And whosoever said it can’t be done?

The voices

Brianna Denski (now14 years old; of native American Indian Blackfoot descent) as June. (Here’s more info on Denski: Unlike the character who hates math camp, Brianna excels at maths. Besides, she is a Black Belt in Tang Soo Do karaté. She enjoys modern and contemporary dancing and has actually choreographed a few original dances herself. Not to forget, she’s a trained mezzo soprano singer, whose favorite Broadway musical is Cats.  “I have a goal to one day being in the show,” she told Just Jared).

Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30) as Mom

Matthew Broderick (The Lion King) Dad

John Oliver (Last Week Tonight) Steve

Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) Greta

Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live) Gus

Ken Jeong (The Hangover) Cooper

Norbert Leo Butz (Dan in Real Life) Peanut

Ken Hudson Campbell as Boomer

Sofia Mali as Young June

Oev Michael Urbas as Banky

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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