At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Willy’s Wonderland “2021”


MPAA Rating: NR (TV-MA)/Genre: Action Comedy Horror/Stars: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant, David Sheftell, Ric Reitz, Chris Warner, Kai Kadlec, Caylee Cowan, Terayle Hill, Christian Del Grosso, Jonathan Mercedes, Grant Cramer, Chris Padilla, Olga Cramer, Kamia Arrington; Voices of: Émoi, Jessica Graves, Madisun Leigh, Abel Arias, Chris Schmidt Jr., Mark Gagliardi/Runtime: 88 minutes

I honestly don’t know if I am an outlier in how I feel about this, but is it just me or has there since its inception always been something subtly…off about the animatronics that could be found performing at your local Chuck-E-Cheese? I mean even when I was a kid and I went there for friends’ birthday parties and finding myself with a stomach full of equal parts pizza and soda whilst also being enchanted by all the prizes in the arcade no matter how cheap or flimsy they may have looked, there was also a just under the surface terror I felt in my gut that the audio-animatronics on stage were somehow not just a bunch of tangled up wires and machinery, but instead something infinitely more terrifying that were looking all around the restaurant trying to find kids to pick off and slaughter. Suffice it to say that if you are like me and you ever had this frightening thought go through your mind at some point, you should definitely check out what it would look like if someone made a movie about it. That movie would be a slice of cinematic pie known as Willy’s Wonderland, a relatively recently made action comedy horror slice of cinematic pie about a silent drifter hero being roped into cleaning out a dilapidated Chuck-E-Cheese style restaurant in exchange for his car getting 4 new tires only to find himself going up against the restaurant’s ruthless and blood thirsty group of animatronics in a desperate battle for survival. Suffice it to say that while this particular slice of cinematic pie doesn’t really have much in the way of intelligence, it also to its credit is quite gonzo and ballsy in the best ways possible whilst also refusing to throw any punches whatsoever whilst also committing 110% into its wild and crazy nightmarish scenario that if you have any small children you might wish to tuck them in before sitting down to watch this. Trust me. You will most assuredly thank me later.

The plot is as follows: A man with no name (looking over both shoulders for Clint Eastwood’s group of lawyers as I write that line) is driving his revved up black muscle car through a small backwoods locale known as Hayesville when he is the victim of a horrific blowout which is by no means accidental since the road in the area was littered with the sheriff’s stolen spike strip (supposedly). It’s also not accidental by any stretch that, following getting a tow to a garage, he is told by the proprietor that the bill is going to be steep, but he only accepts cold hard cash and no ATM in town is operating at the moment. “Thankfully” there is a solution to be had. A solution that takes the form of if the man is willing to spend a night cleaning a dilapidated and rundown family restaurant in town by the name of Willy’s Wonderland then the owner of Willy’s will agree to pay to have his car fixed. Silently agreeing to do this with a handshake to the owner, we see our hero is sent inside the place in order to “clean it up” only for us to quickly discover that instead he is serving as an offering of sorts to the group of about 8 giant animatronic characters residing inside who love to come alive and viciously murder people. Instead the man, ripped even when wearing a ridiculously goofy Willy the Weasel T-shirt, and energized to the hilt on cans of energy drinks has other plans. Namely to break out the rags, the Windex, and the mop and broom and do exactly what he was “hired” to do and maybe kick some animatronic furry-animal butt along the way….or at least that was the plan until a crew of delinquents decide to break into the joint in the hopes of causing a fire that will burn this unholy abomination and the creatures inside right down to nothing less than ashes….which then gives the bloodthirsty audio animatronic a chance to engage in some quite potent violent-riddled mayhem. Now it is up to our silent yet stoic hero and this group of teenagers to go to war with these audio-animatronic butchers lest they wish to become their next victims.

Now right off the bat I’m just going to note it and say that Willy’s Wonderland is a film that is in ready possession of the kind of pause and play tempo that a lot of 80s horror films had back in the day and honestly that is not a bad thing in the slightest. I say that because this slice of cinematic pie is the kind of blood bath that if you are willing to give it a chance then you really are meant to just kick up your feet and just relax while doing so even while at the same time also taking some time to also sip or chug a can or 5 of Monster Energy drinks (if not something that might veer on the stronger side). Indeed this film is one that is just as satisfied with letting us view our late night custodian hero take some time to play some pinball and clean the bathrooms as it is in letting us witness him throwdown with the audio animatronics and beat them to an oily mess. Yes, in case you are wondering, there is backstory in this that does explain why these audio animatronic creations are running amok in this restaurant and engaging in bloody anarchy, but in all fairness in a slice of cinematic pie like this even such a diabolical plot as the one this film is saddled with only manages to wonderfully add to the cheese factor. I mean c’mon: you know as well as I do that the only reason you want to see this movie is because you want to see Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage completely and utterly annihilate a group of low budget Chuck E Cheese-style animatronics with anything and everything include his bare hands as the film goes on. Everything else after that is simply just icing on the cake.

Along with that I also feel that the performances all do a wonderful job of adding to the gonzo nature of this distinct blood soaked slice of cinematic pie. This is especially true of lead actor Nicolas Cage who manages to do the amazing job of giving a completely and downright wonderfully over the top performance without once uttering a single word of dialogue at any point during the movie’s runtime. Yes you read that right: Nicolas Cage is so quiet in this even Mad Max looks like a blabber mouth in comparison. Yet even when taking his complete and utter silence into account, there is no denying that Cage does terrific in this. Indeed there is no denying that, when given the right material, Cage is a fantastic actor and in this he really gives us a turn that is a wonderful mix of stoic, determined, and just also pure physicality all rolled into one to the point that when he engages in his smack downs with the various animatronics you really do find yourself cheering him on. Along with Cage though we also get a quartet of fairly good performances from Emily Tosta as the female leader of the delinquents, Beth Grant as the town’s hardened yet enigmatic sheriff, Ric Reitz as the friendly yet also aloof owner of Willy’s, and Chris Warner as the seemingly decent and upstanding proprietor of the garage respectively even if they are by and large playing archetypes that you have seen a million times before in other movies of this ilk. Ultimately though, this film hinges on the work done by Cage in the lead role and in that respect it truly is aces in the best way possible.

All in all if you are looking for a game where a silent yet stoic hero engages in a visceral and brutal battle against a group of audio-animatronics that are interested in no more and no less than viciously murdering him then might I recommend Five Nights at Freddie’s. If however you want the cinematic equivalent of that then I promise you have come to the right place. Indeed here is a slice of cinematic pie that knows it most assuredly is not going to be in the running for Oscars or any awards for that matter. At the same time though, this movie might be as silly and gonzo-levels of goofy that you might be expecting, but it still does a wonderful job of finding just the right tone to play with courtesy of giving us equal amounts of both laughs and blood and guts to say nothing of one of the more delightfully odd entries in Nicolas Cage’s filmography as of late. As such, it might not be the best of the best, but there is no denying that Willy’s Wonderland is without a doubt in my mind easily one of the more delightfully unique to say nothing of completely gonzo in the best way possible slices of cinematic pie that audiences have been treated to so far this year to say nothing of being a film that is already on its way to becoming a genuine cult classic. On a scale of 1-5 I give Willy’s Wonderland “2021” a solid 3 out of 5.