When you’re about to be evicted and a treasure map falls in your lap, you know it’s time to change your plans and go on an adventure. This is what happens to Henry (Lucas Zumann) and his big sister, Joy, when they find the blueprints to Al Capone’s stash at Happyland Indoor Amusement Park. Much sought after but never found, Happyland’s recent closure provides a unique opportunity for them to search the grounds while their dad, Ben, has the keys. Owner of a collectibles shop, Ben is allowed his pick of the items left behind but is quick to dismiss his son’s intent of looking for rumored riches.
In the dark about the eviction notice arriving in the mail, he should still be aware that they’re tight on cash, and like the adults in The Polar Express (2004), it’s left to the kids to keep the magic alive. Henry’s dad would have his son stop believing in fairy tales but that’s exactly what they find themselves becoming a part of, when another legend takes center stage. Thrill Ride (2016) digs in with sheer, obvious enthusiasm, losing no sleep over being heavy-handed (the eviction notice envelope is bright red) and making it impossible not to smile back when Henry’s best friend Truman (John Babbo) starts in on the legend that will fuel the rest of the story.
Filmed like a bad TV commercial, Truman narrates Drunk History style, so you have the characters lip synching to his telling of events for this part. Filled with plenty of “likes” and colorful expressions (“pooping dolphins”), it’s a blast to see Truman’s lines acted seriously. There’s a genuineness to Babbo’s performance that cements him as the annoying best friend who makes every adventure better, while Tori Waite is cool without being above using gum balls for a distraction as the movie’s heroine, Joy.
A long time ago, a mermaid named Aubrey conspired with a pirate, Drake, to steal the sea witch, Esmerelda’s, wands. Plans went awry, as plans usually do, and Esmerelda, Aubrey, and Drake were turned into stone. These statues were purchased by Al Capone’s wife, placed in Happyland, and ended up at Joanie Loves Chachkies when Happyland was shut down. When Ben covets the wand in Esmerelda’s hand, the curse is broken, the statues wake up, and suddenly there’s competition for who finds the treasure first. Played with catty attitude by Helen Sadler, Aubrey, makes for one evil mermaid, while Kristen Johnston shines as the unfairly maligned “sea hag,” Esmerelda. Nary a henchman gets forgotten in this well-crafted script.
Liberties are taken with the park being in working order. The power hasn’t been shut off, all the rides run, and popcorn is still edible after being left out. There are plenty of classic, teen movie hurtles: Ben is a single parent while Joy faces peer pressure to throw a pool party. A carnival is a great place to set a movie but Thrill Ride truly utilizes the setting, including teddy bears that will make folks nostalgic for Chuck E. Cheese’s animatronic monstrosities. A constant influx of new obstacles means the plot never slows down and the physical comedy of Aubrey’s mermaid tail is classic.
Thrill Ride is Mason’s Movies’ debut film. Directed by Chris Parrish, Parrish shares writing credit with his son, Mason, who came up with the story the film is based on. Mason died from D.I.P.G., a rare form of brain cancer, and fifty percent of every dollar the film makes will go to The Mason Parrish Foundation for pediatric brain tumor research and wheelchair accessible vans for families with children who need them. “Mason loved to tell stories, especially ones where the kids are the heroes,” Parrish writes, and Thrill Ride lives up to that calling. Hocus Pocus should be nervous, that’s how successful Thrill Ride is as a film. Any kid or adult would want to hop on a tilt-a-whirl with Henry, Truman, and Joy.
Thrill Ride arrives on Blu-Ray and VOD on 12th December. Preorders start on 17th October and a limited theatrical run is set for 1st – 8th December in Chicago.