The Wonderland is an animated feature that puts the “con” in confusion. Almost an entire waste of 115 minutes, this film is saved only by its soundtrack and visuals. The songs used in The Wonderland present a true air of excitement and adventure. Part of the joy that the soundtrack brings comes from the fact that a track or two either nod to — or completely rip off — the main theme of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game franchise. Bearings aside, the soundtrack does its best to pump out emotion to the story — even though the story being told doesn’t deserve it. Despite everything that’s going to be said after these next few sentences, the animation for The Wonderland makes the movie worth rewatching. The world is lively, and every set piece deserves its own movie (I’d gladly watch a movie based in a bright, yet decrepit city the film presents about 35 minutes in). My favorite detail lies in the eyes for each character. The iris and pupils of the protagonist may be the best eye features for an animated feature in a long time.
The story presented in The Wonderland is a long, winding road that manages to get from point A to point B, but it’s likely that most viewers will be too tired and/or confused by the halfway point to care about the end result. Protagonist Akane is sent to the shop of a family friend, Chii. Akane puts her hand in a relic and — upon the arrival of an alchemist named Hippocrates from distant land — learns she’s the Goddess of the Green Wind, destined to help save a world from drought. Cool. What follows is a journey across the land to reach a prince that is due to perform a ritual to bring water to his world. The premise sounds more exciting and straightforward than it actually is. The film acts like a road trip with a couple stops in between that take far too long to do anything except bog the story and pacing down. By the one-hour mark, my viewing partner — who loves intricate plots and worldbuilding — asked me if I was following what was going on because he was completely lost. The elements that make up the world are interesting when introduced, but there are several of them and none of them are explored in enough depth that one could get a sense of fulfillment from.
Building on the story is the most important aspect to an effective film: good characters. The Wonderland doesn’t contain many good characters. Nearly everyone is one-dimensional. Akane doesn’t want to go on the journey and makes it known throughout, but when the time comes for her to have a shift in personality it doesn’t feel the least bit earned. Chii is the adventurous spirit, Hippocrates is the stern leader, etc. The only character that has any sense of being worth caring for is main villain Zan Gu, and the part that makes you consider caring for him comes so late in the film that it doesn’t really fit in. Unfortunately, nobody is worth writing home about. The side characters leave little impact, save for the mother of the mayor in the first town the group visits. There are also some cringe worthy scenes — such as a bird sniffing Akane’s rear end while trying to identify the group and Akane being turned into a cat girl and having her tail pulled because she pulled her cat’s tail for putting his balls in her face. With so few characters worth caring for, the main reason to watch is for the visuals that can hold the attention of even the viewer with the shortest attention span.
There is one moment in the last 15 minutes of the film that is extremely infuriating and insulting, as a fan of Studio Ghibli films. When it is time for Akane and Chii to go back to their world, Hippocrates tells them to move quickly towards the music that they hear to get home and to not look back. The words are almost copy and pasted from Spirited Away and the journey that Akane and Chii go on — in comparison to the protagonist of Spirited Away — makes the quote feel dense and unearned. While there is a degree of watchability to The Wonderland, if you aren’t an animation fanatic then it may be a one-time slog.