If you can picture an animated film that has its own equivalent of those lovable Minions but makes them unbelievably terrifying, you have an idea of the oddness of “Wonder Park.”
Here, the little creatures are baby monkeys who inhabit an amusement park. Oh sure, they’re all cuddly and chimpy when things go well. But when the park declines, they turn into “chimpanzombies,” furious beasties who go on a rampage that’s staged like something out of “World War Z.”
The park in question (actually called “Wonder Land”) is created by the imagination of the film’s young suburban heroine, June (voiced by Brianna Denski). With the help of her mom (Jennifer Garner), June conjures up a fun-fair of roller coasters and Ferris wheels and talking animals.
“Wonder Park” is not a Pixar film, but it goes for some Pixar-like intensity: First off, Mom gets sick (cancer, apparently) and must leave town for a while, leaving June with her kind but ineffectual dad (Matthew Broderick).
For another thing, the film suggests that the park actually exists in some other realm, and that its denizens take their ideas from June, who functions as a kind of god. It all sounds very “Twilight Zone.”
To make things weirder, June somehow enters into this imaginary world, and finds it overgrown and dilapidated. The chimpanzombies are on the loose, and the park’s spiritual leader, an ape named Peanut (Norbert Leo Butz), is depressed.
In “It’s a Wonderful Life” terms, the park is in its Pottersville phase. Only June can save the place, by exercising her imagination again.
What a strange film. The animation is busy but generic. Some of the voice actors score nicely: John Oliver as a lovesick porcupine, Kenan Thompson and Ken Jeong as a pair of scrappy beavers.
But “Wonder Park” is torn between a handful of effective slapstick scenes (including one in which June builds her own roller coaster, gleefully endangering the neighborhood kids) and a series of incredibly sad moments.
Also, there’s my own aversion to monkeys acting like people, which makes nominal hero Peanut (despite a lively voice performance by Broadway star Butz) way too unsettling for me. Stay on the other side of the uncanny valley, please.
I get what “Wonder Park” is aiming for, but its ideas and design feel second-hand. Maybe it’s got something to do with Paramount Animation and co-producer Nickelodeon Movies firing the original director halfway through production on an “inappropriate conduct” charge.
Whatever the problems, this movie doesn’t come together. But it might unintentionally generate a surplus of nightmare fuel.
“Wonder Park” (2 stars)
Strange animated film about a little girl who imagines an amusement park, which she then visits and helps restore. The film’s got a few lively scenes and voices, but it aims for a Pixar intensity that comes off seeming very dark and weird — and also second-hand.
Rating: PG, for subject matter
Opening: Alderwood, Marysville Galaxy Monroe, Stanwood Cinemas, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Oak Tree, Cascade Mallt