A Parent's Guide to Wonder Park

My boys and I decided to have a movie date night over the weekend.  It was their treat using the movie gift cards they received from recent birthdays and since they were treating they got to pick the movie.  We actually were torn between the new How to Train Your Dragon and Wonder Park, so we left it up to friends who were going to be joining us and went with Wonder Park.  I'll be honest - this movie caught me off guard.  I went into the movie expecting to see a story about a little girl who has the imaginative amusement park she had created come magically to life, but instead found myself fielding questions like "Why is her mom going to the hospital?", "When is she coming back?", and "Can you tell me when the darkness is going to be over?"  Now don't get me wrong, I'm really glad that I took my boys to go see this movie and there were many humorous and lighthearted moments in it, but as a parent with young kids, there are a few things you may want to be prepared for before you arrive.

Most of what I'm going to discuss here went right over the head of my 4 year old, but it landed square in the mind of my 7 year old and I'm going to attempt to keep this as spoiler free as possible.  The movie begins with June and her parents living a simple, happy life.  June and her mom love building and creating their imagined amusement park, Wonderland.  But life soon deals them a cold blow.  Without ever speaking specifically to the details, you clearly see June's mom get bad news and grow more tired in a time lapse sequence.  Finally, June's parents tell her that mom is too sick to stay at home any more and needs to go to a hospital.  Despite attempts from friends and family to cheer her up, June becomes angrier and more sad with each passing day.  She takes out those strong feelings on the one thing that triggers those happy memories of mom and destroys the Wonderland they had created in the house.  In an effort to keep a sense of normalcy in her life, June's dad insists that she goes to Math Camp for the summer, but June has other plans.  She sneaks off the bus and escapes into the woods to head back home to be with and care for her father.  But she's drawn deeper into the woods and discovers that Wonderland may not be make believe after all.  Finding the darkness consuming and destroying Wonderland, June must work with her familiar friends to find the light within her and use her light to overpower dark.

Wow.  Does that say a lot?  So in the movie that I was expecting to be a carefree film, we have serious illness, hospitalization, and depression all rolled into one.  Brody asked A LOT of questions during the movie, especially about the mom and her illness.  Since he hasn't experienced a serious illness and extended hospitalization of a close family member, he didn't know what exactly was happening - but he could tell it was bad and it was making June very sad.  I can imagine this would be a very sensitive movie for a family that has been through something similar.  The message in the end is positive, uplifting, and hopeful, but not without showing us that you must sometimes battle a great deal of darkness to shine your light brighter than ever.




I would not steer away from this movie based on what I know now.  Definitely take your kids to see it as it does give an opportunity to talk about some serious issues in a safe context, but know that those questions most likely will come.  Those of you who know my reviews, know I often like kid-friendly movies that tackle bigger issues, I was just surprised to see it happen in this one.  I curious to hear and read even more feedback in the days and weeks to come as more people experience the world of Wonder Park.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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