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Fantasia 2020

[Fantasia] ‘Class Action Park’ review: Chaotic and nostalgic look at infamous amusement park

An odd change in tone

Amusement parks are a source of excitement and fear. Arguably, water parks are the most exciting and therefore, frightening. Taking one of nature’s most unpredictable elements, water parks try to add an element of fun to battling uncontrollable water. New Jersey’s Action Park is the most infamous. The site boasted dangerous rides that drew attention and crowds – before the deaths starting piling up.

Class Action Park is a documentary making its international premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival. (It will also be coming to HBO Max August 27.) The film chronicles the rise and fall of Action Park. The documentary uses archival footage and images to tell its story. It sounds like the standard formula for the genre. Aside from the modern day interviews, Class Action Park has a grainy quality to it. Original footage has been used and nothing has been touched up. It plays into the feeling of nostalgia the doc tries to capture at times.

In today’s world, a picture or video is just a thumb push away. This was not the case during the time Action Park was open. Many of the incidents Class Action Park refer to has not been caught on pictures or tape. The technology simply did not exist at the time. This actually ends up working in favor of the documentary as the filmmakers use a creative technique to get around this.

Class Action Park uses a colorful animations to show many of the zaniest moments described. This adds to the documentary as the actual footage would be a little much since the early portions of the film take a more light hearted and fun approach. In place of Instagram videos and selfies, the film uses news footage and actual commercials from the time.

An odd change in tone

Class Action Park is as erratic as the rides it discusses. Nostalgia, anger, and too ridiculous to be true comedy are scattered throughout the documentary. At first, there is nothing wrong with this. As with any doc, there are a number of people interviewed. In this case, at least one of the interviews is taken grossly out of context. The most prominent example is when one of the people interviewed refers to the owner of Action Park in scatological terms. It is played for comedy until it is revealed much later that the woman’s son died on one of the rides at the park.

For the most part, Class Action Park is a fun documentary. Its deep dive into the inner workings of the dangerous amusement park is bewildering and amusing. Unfortunately, the film does not seem to know what message it wants to deliver. It will sometimes mix wistful nostalgia and mourning in the same scene. Ultimately, it is a entertaining, if frustrating, watch.

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