Video game adaptations are awfully hot commodities right now. From The Super Mario Bros. Movie blowing up box offices to HBO’s The Last of Us giving us a top-notch portrayal of one of the greatest games in recent memory. Even more surprisingly, the film adaptation of Scott Cawthon‘s Five Nights at Freddy’s series has crawled its way out of production hell and finally has a 2023 release date alongside a cast list including Josh Hutcherson and Matthew Lillard. While the FNaF adaptation ping-ponged between seemingly endless roadblocks and hangups for eight years, a few studios and filmmakers decided that they could capitalize on the series’ hype and potentially pack some fans into theaters and park them in front of TVs via streaming and VOD. Hanna Barbera’s The Banana Splits movie comes to mind, but another project in 2019 would take a swing at the killer animatronic formula of Five Nights at Freddy‘s courtesy of writer G. O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis — Willy’s Wonderland starring Nicolas Cage.
Willy’s Wonderland, an expanded feature-length film inspired by Parsons’ work on the short film Wally’s Wonderland, was announced back in October 2019. Well before the film’s release, the premise caught the eye of one Nicolas Cage, who signed onto the project as a producer and its foremost star. After being delayed courtesy of the pandemic, Willy’s Wonderland hit video-on-demand services and a limited theatrical run in February 2021. The film admittedly barely cleared its production budget with its box office numbers, but it continues to be one of the more interesting spins on the rising animatronic horror niche thanks to Cage’s performance and the parallels it draws to Five Nights at Freddy’s. It may exist as a B-horror action/comedy through and through due to its purported production budget of less than half a million dollars, but there’s certainly something oddly appealing about a silent and stoic Nicolas Cage beating robotic animals into a pulp.
Cage Rage Is Unleashed in ‘Willy’s Wonderland’
Critics may have not been fans of the plot of Willy’s Wonderland, or its character development for that matter. But let’s be honest, if you’re expecting a ton of character depth and intricate writing in a movie about Nicolas Cage beating down possessed animatronics, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The premise and plot are straightforward, but the action is what watchers are often there to see. Cage plays a quiet and nameless drifter whose car breaks down in the tiny town of Hayesville, North Carolina, and without the scratch to pay his repair bill. Fortunately (or unfortunately), he’s given a lift to Willy’s Wonderland by mechanic Jed Love (Chris Warner). The kids’ entertainment center has certainly seen better days and has since been abandoned, but the center’s owner Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz) offers a solution to Cage’s transportation problem: spend the night shift locked in the entertainment center and clean the place up, and Macadoo will foot the bill on the car repairs. The proposal is sketchy from the jump, but Cage’s character, stuck in a bind and full of fearless bravado, takes the job.
Elsewhere, a woman by the name of Liv Hawthorne (Emily Tosta) is being clapped in handcuffs for her attempts to torch Willy’s Wonderland to the ground. Fortunately, after Sheriff Lund (Beth Grant) takes her leave, Liv’s friends come in clutch and set her free. There’s still a job to do, and it seems that the sleepy town’s inhabitants know there’s evil emanating from the once-great entertainment center. When darkness falls on Hayesville, Liv and her friends set back out to destroy Willy’s Wonderland while Cage’s Drifter/Janitor character starts his shift from hell. Willy’s Wonderland’s animatronic entertainers (Willy Weasel, Ozzie Ostrich, Knighty Knight, Tito Turtle, Arty Alligator, Cammy Chameleon, and Siren Sara) flicker to life, and they have a fervent murderous intent in their cold, robotic eyes. Liv heads inside through the ventilation system as her friends begin pouring gasoline on the center’s exterior, hoping to get the Janitor out of Willy’s Wonderland before setting the whole establishment ablaze. With little more than his fists, his boots, and his raggedy mop, The Janitor vents his frustrations with a heavy dose of violence.
Liv eventually finds the Janitor and attempts to talk him into leaving when she divulges the story of the animatronics, who are possessed by the spirit of a cannibalistic serial killer and his most fervent underlings who had plagued Hayesville. However, considering he’s already curb-stomping robotic killer critters into urinals at this point, The Janitor decides to take his chances with the murderous inhabitants of Willy’s Wonderland. Getting his car fixed is clearly The Janitor’s priority, or maybe he just decided he really enjoys blowing off some steam when the animatronics make the mistake of getting in his way. Without spoiling the subsequent events and the ending, it’s safe to say that if the Janitor thought he had a mess to clean up earlier in the film, he hasn’t seen anything yet.
‘Willy’s Wonderland Shows That Dumb Fun Is Still Fun
When Five Nights at Freddy’s finally makes its film debut, you can guarantee that plenty of attention will be paid to the expansive lore and backstory of the games being adapted. However, Willy’s Wonderland manages to keep things entertaining without relying on pre-existing information due in no small part to Cage’s chaotic fight scenes with the animatronics and more than enough gore to satisfy B-horror fans.
Could the film benefit from some improved character development and more intricate story beats surrounding the titular entertainment center? Sure, but there’s something charming about Willy’s Wonderland‘s willingness to keep things simple that turns the movie into a pure popcorn flick that may not wow the box office but would be right at home on a Saturday night at home or even as a drive-in feature. It’s certainly no secret that horror has entered a nuanced and atmospheric period with plenty of underlying themes to carry it, but sometimes, folks just want to see Nicolas Cage beat some animatronic ass in a visceral fashion, and that can be enough on its own.
If you’ve ever spent a night over snacks, drinks, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space (oddly enough, one of Willy’s Wonderland‘s producers, Grant Cramer, played Mike Tobacco in Killer Klowns), then Willy’s Wonderland may certainly have something to offer. We all know that Nicolas Cage takes on some of the most eccentric roles in the industry, and this film is another notable feather in his cap in that regard. If watchers need a horror/action/comedy film where they can turn their brains off, kick back, and watch the carnage unfold, Willy’s Wonderland can deliver as the wait for Five Nights at Freddy’s continues.