Why Willy’s Wonderland Fails To Capitalize On Its Oddball Premise

Nicolas Cage is no stranger to oddball movies. The Academy Award winner has been in nearly every independent film known to man in the past ten years. Some are actually pretty darn good (Color Out of Space, Pig, Mandy) and most tend to be horrendous (Left Behind, Outcast, 211); however, if there’s one thing you can always expect; it’s a crazy Nicolas Cage performance from the veteran himself. However, that type of performance is actually subdued in Willy’s Wonderland, which also stars Emily Tosta (Party of Five, Rosewood) and Beth Grant (Speed, No Country for Old Men), which is about a loner who’s forced to spend the night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned family fun center, which holds a dark secret unbeknownst to the Janitor. Soon, Cage finds himself in a battle against the possessed animatronic mascots that plague the abandoned funhouse.

Here’s the thing, this is actually a great premise and it’s understandable that a producer decided to fund this film. The main issue is that the film doesn’t really take advantage of its weirdness. Just like Slither had fun with its premise of deadly alien organisms (or alien slugs) and Teeth introduced an unexpectedly great story about a girl’s killer vagina, Willy’s Wonderland should’ve leaned into the darker humor aspects of its film. The premise is completely silly. Granted, for anyone who’s played Five Nights At Freddy’s, animatronic animals can be pretty scary at night; however, Willy’s Wonderland feels more like a generic slasher flick with animatronic animals. Nicolas Cage is rightfully spotlighted in the film; however, he’s not the main character. In fact, we don’t learn anything about the “Janitor” as he never says a word. He’s an a**kicker who has no issue taking down these psycho animatronic dolls. Believe it or not, that’s not the issue. Cage carries a certain cool factor about him and it’s actually beneficial that we know next to nothing about his character.

The big issue is that it’s not Cage’s story. Instead of going gonzo crazy on the Cage vs. animatronic storyline, the film feels the need to add unnecessary teenagers to the film. Of course, we would’ve needed to understand the Janitor character a bit more if the film decided to focus on him; however, learning different aspects about his life could’ve been a part of the fun. The big issue with the teenagers is that they don’t really serve a purpose other than to die. That’s fine and dandy since this is a horror film; however, most of the group comes across as incompetent or unlikeable. It’s understandable that sex sells, but to have Kathy and Bob have sex in a place they know has a history of murders doesn’t make me particularly care about them as people. Emily Tosta‘s Liv Hawthrone actually makes sense and her backstory is pretty good. This could’ve also been a fun revenge thriller with her and Cage teaming up to take down the murderous animatronic animals. But again, her story is bogged down due to the fact that she’s with other characters who are simply meant to die. In fact, she’s more of a damsel in distress, as Cage is really the only man that kills these creepy bastards. A bit of the fun is sapped out because Cage’s character is essentially invincible when it comes to this movie. While it’s funny that the Janitor is having a blast within Willy’s Wonderland while the teenagers are being slaughtered one by one, his final encounters against the head honcho would’ve had more impact if the animatronic’s actually felt like a threat when Cage was around.

Speaking of which, the animatronic animals are effectively creepy and the sequence where the teenagers go inside of the fairy’s “world” was actually pretty cool and showcases the wasted potential of this film. Other than that, it plays out like a slasher flick despite its bizarre story. The kills aren’t anything special and oftentimes, the low-budget aspects rear its ugly head against the film. Still, there’s some fun to be had in Willy’s Wonderland. The narrative does have a cohesive story and the lore behind it is intriguing. Again, Nicolas Cage is awesome in this film even though he’s says nothing. Emily Tosta plays her part well too. Willy’s Wonderland isn’t a BAD film. If you got some time to kill then I recommend checking out this feature. However, just understand that it’s a generic slasher flick with animatronic animals.

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