Wonder Park, Missing Link: Animated features are more than just formula

American feature animation, for the most part, used to mean Disney. In the last few decades, however, many regular players eager to get a share of the market have emerged. Pixar became Disney's major rival with critical and commercial hits like Toy Story (and is now owned by the Mouse House). DreamWorks produced the Shrek films, Fox - also a Disney acquisition - had the Ice Age series, to name a few.

June in a scene from Wonder Park. Photo: Paramount Pictures Australia.

June in a scene from Wonder Park. Photo: Paramount Pictures Australia.

While not all the films are great, there certainly seem to be a lot more of them. Many follow the "hero's journey" formula, but getting the elements right isn't easy.

The CGI Wonder Park (Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies) and CGI-enhanced stop-motion Missing Link (Laika), now in release, illustrate some of the range of styles and tones available now with greater or lesser success.

Wonder Park feels like a would-be Pixar movie. It's the CGI-filmed story of an imaginative girl named June whose mother - and partner in creating an elaborate amusement-park model - falls seriously ill and goes away for treatment.

This leads June to abandon the park - but then she comes across the real thing in a forest and must join forces with its inhabitants to prevent its destruction.

While it's a promising idea with decent animation, the film is let down in the execution.

The story seems to be heading in one direction but ends in another, the tone wobbles jarringly both between and within the "real" and "fantasy" sequences. And it was released with no credited director: a sign of trouble.

The director, former Pixar animator Dylan Brown, was fired for inappropriate conduct well into production.This might explain the tonal shifts and the fact the film is titled Wonder Park while the in-film creation is Wonderland.

Wonder Park, despite some funny and touching moments, is a might-have-been. Missing Link is more successful on its own terms, but not as distinctive as earlier Laika efforts such as Coraline.

If Wonder Park is about such ideas as imagination and resilience, the period film Missing Link - which does have a credited director, Chris Butler - is more about exploration and redemption, though the films share the idea of the importance of family and belonging.

Sir Lionel Frost is a self-centred investigator of mythical creatures and is desperate to find proof so he can join a society of Great Men.

He hears tell the North American Sasquatch is real and goes in search of the creature.

When Lionel inevitably does find the Sasquatch, the creature asks for his help in finding his Himalayan relatives the Yetis, and Frost agrees.

While the film isn't the most memorable, it's generally breezy and agreeable and consistently entertaining and seems all of a piece.

What Missing Link lacks is the emotional resonance Wonder Park tried for - and that the best of the Disney and Pixar classics have in abundance.