Posters and ads for the new animated family movie Wonder Park come stacked with various colorful animals, such as the big blue bear Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell) and the prickly porcupine Steve (John Oliver). But Wonder Park isn’t just any old talking-animals movie. These animals have a job, and that job is to run Wonderland, the imaginary amusement park dreamed up by young June (Brianna Denski) and her mother (Jennifer Garner). Though it starts out as a play model in June’s room, she eventually finds herself transported to a life-size version of the park. It is the many rides of Wonderland, even more than the animals, that provides Wonder Park with its movie magic.
“We thought it would be really fascinating to have that amusement park be a product of the girl’s imagination, to see when children are freed from the constraints of the everyday world around them and they get this opportunity to create and design,” André Nemec, a screenwriter and producer on the film, tells EW. “There’s this beautiful freedom to this idea that an amusement park on a life-size scale could be built in the image of a girl whose buildings blocks are the things we find at home, in the way that kids learn how to build.”
There are many imaginative rides to be found in Wonderland. The Grand Wonder is a massive roller coaster with a detachable Ferris wheel built into it. Inter-park transport is provided by the Sky Flinger, giant robot hands that toss capsules filled with customers across Wonderland. Nemec’s personal favorite is the Clockwork Swings, “a chair swing ride that spins in perfect time with other swing rides, intersecting and twisting over each other like cogs in a clock.”
“Once we discovered that we wanted to do a one-to-one between the model she was building at home and the real amusement park, it became important to us that the park be built out of found objects,” Nemec says. “That became the guiding principle of the idea of the park: If you could do the build from found objects, and scale it up to life-size, how cool could that be? Another guiding principle we talked about was, ‘What would a real-life amusement park look like if an 11-year-old were designing it?’ There’s a line in the movie: ‘Is it just any old Ferris wheel or any old carousel?’ That became a guiding principle, not just for June and her relationship with her mom who wanted her to think bigger. It became a guiding principle for us and what the ideas would look like. Part of it was we didn’t have to live by the real laws of physics. So we’d sit around the conference table and think about, what would just be cool? What ride would I want to be in?”
That’s how Fireworks Falls came to be. Originally conceived as a mix between water log rides and “the floor is lava” game that kids play at home, Nemec says they turned it from lava to fireworks when they determined the latter would be even cooler. Zero G Land, a bouncy castle with zero gravity, came out of the games June would play with her dad (Matthew Broderick) when he’d balance her on his feet.
Nemec and his collaborators were inspired by their own memories of childhood, but they also did their due diligence and took a few research trips to amusement parks to refresh their memories and make sure they were capturing the feeling.
“We popped into an amusement park or two as a reminder,” Nemec says. “I hadn’t been to an amusement park in years, but I had a nostalgia for it. Going back was kind of a brilliant reminder of how exhilarating and freeing and fun they really can be. It turned out to be a great research trip.”
Wonder Park is in theaters now. Below, check out some stills of the film showing Wonderland’s rides in action.