Over the last few years, movie fans have celebrated the ‘Keanusaince‘, or resurgence of Keanu Reeves. Though it’s been much more lowkey, Nicolas Cage has enjoyed something of a comeback. Once a Hollywood A-lister, Cage’s career sort of went off the rails after The Wicker Man debacle. Today, younger fans may be more likely to recognize Cage from the ‘Not the bees’ meme. But Cage has slowly cobbled together some decent genre efforts, including Mom and Dad, Mandy, and Color out of Space. Now Cage has once again married his ‘out-there-acting’ with a potential ‘cult classic-in-the-making’, Willy’s Wonderland. Critics have been lukewarm, but the Five Nights at Freddy’s and Banana Splits mashup looks like a fun Friday night movie.
When a drifter’s car breaks down outside a small town, he finds himself stuck with no way to pay for repairs. With few options, the drifter agrees to spend the night cleaning a closed, run-down family restaurant, Willy’s Wonderland. But as the night drags on, the drifter discovers the restaurant’s decrepit children’s animatronic band not only still work – the murderous original owner and his partners have possessed them. Trapped in the restaurant with a group of teens, the drifter must fight off the demonic walking puppets to survive the night.
Willy’s Wonderland Nearly Undershoots Its Midnight Movie Ambitions
Don’t expect to be scared watching Willy’s Wonderland. In spite of its horror label, director Kevin Lewis clearly intended this one to a comedy in the vein of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. For some viewers, Willy’s Wonderland will feel like a one-joke movie. And this isn’t an entirely inaccurate description. By and large, it’s 90 minutes or so of Cage fighting possessed animatronic puppets. Either it’s your thing or it’s not. It’s a minimalist movie in every aspect from set design to its practical effects. Once unruly teens turn up at Willy’s Wonderland, Lewis settles into goofy slasher movie pacing. Common subgenre tropes abound in an intentionally absurd manner. If the effects and action seem stilted, it’s all in keeping with the movie’s ‘Midnight Movie’ vibes.
By and large, it’s 90 minutes or so of Cage fighting possessed animatronic puppets.
Where Willy’s Wonderland will make or break on any potential cult movie status is whether it’s goofy enough for bad movie lovers. It may sound contradictory to suggest a movie with killer anthropomorphic animatronic animals doesn’t have the right amount of cheesiness. Regardless Willy’s Wonderland doesn’t hit quite the same heights of gross-out insanity it promises. As compared to some other recent B-movie homages, Lewis sometimes plays it a little safe. One wonders if he was relying on Cage fighting robotic puppets to carry the entire movie. And that is the movie’s selling point. Fortunately, GO Parson’s screenplay spins a surprisingly funny story with enough jokes peppered throughout the runtime.
Even Without Dialogue Cage is Going to Cage
Plenty of actors have transitioned into different roles late in their careers. Before The Naked Gun movies, Leslie Nielsen (Prom Night, Creepshow) was a serious thespian. Horror legend Vincent Price started his career as a character actor in serious fare before The House of Wax. And do you remember when Vince Vaughan was as serious actor? While Cage has always played eccentric characters, he’s slowly embraced more ‘Midnight Movie’ roles in recent years. Willy’s Wonderland credits Cage only as ‘The Janitor’, which is fitting since he has no speaking lines in the entire movie.
His performance is one part Clint Eastwood mixed with a Crispin Glove-style of odd mannerisms.
In this regard, Cage’s performance is more restrained than Mandy, Mom and Dad, or Vampire’s Kiss. Of course, Cage still manages to imbue his character with eccentricities and tics. His performance is one part Clint Eastwood mixed with a Crispin Glover-style of odd mannerisms. Whether it’s The Janitor’s penchant for energy drinks or his unexplained need to finish a pinball game amidst chaos, Cage makes the character memorable in the absence of dialogue. Not surprisingly, Cage and the animatronic killers outshine the rest of the cast with the exception of Emily Tosta. As the only really defined character, Tosta has a definite presence and is clearly talented.
Willy’s Wonderland Should Have No Problems Findings Its Niche Audience
Bottom line, Willy’s Wonderland plays out exactly as advertised. It’s a Nicholas Cage movie with killer animatronic puppets. And Cage doesn’t utter a word of dialogue. If that doesn’t like 90 minutes well spent to you, then you can skip this one. But if you love Nicolas Cage in B-movies or really miss Chuck E Cheese, Willy’s Wonderland is a surprisingly fun ‘Midnight Movie’. Certainly, it’s a notch above the other killer animatronic monster movie, The Banana Splits Movie. Things breeze along with enough intentional silliness to qualify as a ‘so bad it’s good’ B-movie.