Class Action Park is a documentary about the water park Action Park in Vernon, New Jersey, about 75 minutes from Manhattan. The park is legendary for its poorly designed rides and lack of rules. A large part of the film is 1980s nostalgia about kids running free without adult supervision, coming home at dusk with scraped knees, and stories to tell at school the next day.
The film paints the 1980s and early 1990s as a far different time. A narrow sliver when parents loosened the leashes they put on their children and the internet was not part of our lives. This part of the documentary will resonate with anyone that grew up in the 1980s, I think. I grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s when the internet did not mean much. I spent plenty of time playing bikes and all I had to do was let my parents know where I was going and when I got there.
The documentary walks through the creation and problems of most of the attractions at Action Park. They have first-hand accounts of people that road them and people that were, wisely, too scared to go on them. The lack of any safety features is pointed out time and time again. The staff of the park was all teenagers, the people in charge being experienced with one or maybe two seasons already under their belt. It is all fun to watch just how crazy this place was from the safety of your couch, but you know the documentary is going to change direction at some point.
The film visits with the family of one of the multiple people who died at Action Park. At this point, the film steers into the lack of regulations that were in place and the defiance that the owner, Eugene Mulvihill, showed for the law. While the film contains Class Action in the title, I did not see evidence of any class action lawsuits. There were plenty of individuals that tried to sue Mulvihill but were unsuccessful for multiple reasons. The park brought a lot of revenue to the township of Vernon, as a result, the local government was very tolerant of Mulvihill’s antics.
This documentary starts as a fun and crazy look back at the 1980s and ends on a somber note. The change is abrupt, but you see it coming from the description of the first ride. It is a well-executed documentary with lots of real footage, firsthand accounts, and a few fun animation sequences. If you try to put this on in the background you are going to get distracted by it. Each ride is crazier than the last and, like a train wreck, you can’t look away.