A trip to London to see Wonder Park: A colourful story of childhood imagination, fear and family
Jenna and I have been like ships in the night recently, what with her new job demanding more hours and me being on a triple deadline this month. So effectively when she works late I’m at home with Roma and vice versa. But we did have one thing in the diary in advance – a screening of Paramount’s new animated film Wonder Park at Leicester Square on Sunday 24th March.
I’ve spoken about the perils of travelling into London by public transport before, so between getting the train and driving I see the latter as the lesser of two evils – no congestion charge on a Sunday and free parking too.
Problem is there was a half marathon that day, which meant lots of road closures, which meant lots of delays. And that was a worry because it ate into my strategy – always advisable when there’s a cinema trip lined up with a toddler – of leg-stretching time for Roma to charge about and burn off some of that boundless energy she possesses.
When we finally arrived at Leicester Square we went to M&M’s World, which smells unreal by the way. I had no intention of buying anything of course, but for Roma it was the perfect sensory playground from the chocolate scent found throughout to the psychedelic merchandise hung all over the place, as well as the giant Red doing the rounds, high-fiving and posing for photos in addition to the adult-sized statues of the various characters on each floor.
Even if you’re on a diet or don’t like M&M’s – the latter of which would be madness – it’ll keep the little ones entertained, so it’s worth swinging by. Plus, you don’t have to queue to get in like you do with the Lego store directly opposite. What’s that all about anyway? I mean, I’d understand if it was Legoland but this is the shop. Why are you queuing to get inside?!
Next stop was Chinatown, which we walked along before making our way to the Vue, where the Wonder Park screening itself was taking place. A blue carpet was laid out for the occasion and paparazzi were eagerly snapping away like crazy as the likes of Danny Dyer, Michelle Heaton, Debbie Bright among others struck a pose.
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A splendiferous afternoon was had yesterday for the @wonderparkmovie screening 🎈🎈🎈 We really enjoyed the film. Well, when I say we, I’m the only one who saw the movie in its entirety because someone got fidgety… So Roma took @jennashilstfit outside to calm down – but on their return, with balloon in hand and a nappy change complete, they were both settled and ready to catch up. It’s safe to say there’s more to #WonderPark than meets the eye at first glance, which made for a real surprise. Thanks for having us @paramountuk – if you make Zero-G Land an actual thing, holler at your boy 🙌🎠🎡🎢 #DADultLife #Nickelodeon #WonderParkMovie #FilmLovers #MovieMagic #CinemaTime
With fun in the foyer in full swing by the time we arrived at around 2pm, balloons, face paints and a faux rollercoaster complete with green screen were all set up. Boomer (the bear from the film) himself was even present and stopping for snaps although the face Roma pulled when up close with him was similar to the expression she had alongside Red – sheer uncertainty as though someone had mentioned Brexit.
By the time we were ushered into the film, which was set to kick off at 2.30pm, I was convinced Roma had received her fill of physical stimulation and hoped she’d sit still throughout the film. To begin with she was quite content sitting on Jenna’s lap tucking into snacks / feeding me and that was with nothing playing on the screen. But by the time the film came on at pushing 3pm – a result of two of the voice actors, Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg, making a special appearance – she’d started to get slightly fidgety.
Nevertheless, Wonder Park had finally started. So what’s it all about? Well, based on the poster alone or a quick look at a TV advert, it’s about a girl who has talking animals for friends and they all work together at a theme park that would make even Disney World look bland. But there’s more to it than that.
The film kicks off in Wonderland, an absolutely astonishing theme park of epic and enviable proportions that’s run by Boomer the bear, Greta the boar, beaver brothers Gus and Cooper, Steve the porcupine and Peanut the monkey. Although it soon transpires that what takes place in the park is simply just the imagination of a young free-spirited girl called June and her mother, with whom she shares an incredible relationship.
When she’s not busy developing the Wonderland model and coming up with new ideas, June becomes convinced she can build her park in the real world. Let’s just say the attempt was memorable. Shortly after, June’s family becomes slightly smaller with just one parent at the helm instead of the two she’d always had and her personality goes from outgoing and excitable to reclusive and withdrawn. It’s this element in particular that really stood out to me and caught me by surprise.
In the same way that Inside Out and Up from Disney Pixar both really had heartfelt messages at their centre, in that it’s okay to face your emotions, this is a theme that’s laced throughout Wonder Park too. And I don’t mind saying that it certainly pulled at my heartstrings. I think this was especially because I was with my own ladies at the time, so it was the exact same family setup that was displayed in the film. For both parents and slightly older children there’s a positive conversation to be taken away from it, while younger children will be able to appreciate the vibrancy of Wonder Park.
And with the visuals and atmosphere in mind, the film eventually dives deep into Wonderland itself. Only, it’s the sort of place you’d want a refund from minutes after arriving rather than somewhere you’d want to buy an annual pass. Indeed, the Wonderland we were treated to at the start of the film has changed to become something of a dark and oppressive destination rather than a place even more desirable to toddlers than Thomas Land.
For the most part Roma was calm and well behaved. But there did become a point where she cast aside all cinema etiquette – sitting in silence – to go exploring. Helpfully our aisle to the right was empty but she saw that as an easy escape route, which prompted Jenna to take her outside for a while, a task that I’ve had to do a couple of times myself at the local cinema which have generally ended in defeat. When they came back Roma had a fresh nappy on and a balloon in her grasp, so she was much more settled than the first time around and sprawled herself across my lap to finish off the film. It helped that I started throwing her around in my lap when an up-close demo of a new ride came on screen.
Had the film actually kicked off at 2.30pm like we were expecting, Roma may well have sat still for the duration but then again – does anyone really know what goes on in a toddler’s head? Do they even know?
All in all, the film made for a pleasant watch. So if you like your animated films to have a bit more to them than just a generic adventure, Wonder Park definitely has a bit more depth than the average. It hits cinemas on Monday 8th April 2019.