Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Troll in Central Park (Sullivan Bluth, 1994)

The story is told, that when starting production on this movie, Bluth told his animators that if they couldn’t bring their absolute best, they can just leave. Some of them did. They were the lucky ones.



all joy is gone from my life.

it’s a troll in central park.


I mean, I knew that his budgets were slashed when he lost funding from Goldcrest. I knew that the tendency to make films for a younger audience came from both his personal tastes and the new financiers. I knew that he had none of the time, the money, the staff to do the kind of things he wanted. But… I still thought he was better than this.

The story (such as it is) involves a troll named Stanley, who lives in the troll world, one of those tedious “good is bad” places endemic to 1980s children’s television. You know the kind. People say “bad morning” and “have a rotten day” and stuff like that, they eat garbage, the usual. Stanley, though, is different. He loves flowers, which he grows with this magic thumb, and he’s nice all the time, and you can tell he’s a good guy because he looks more human than the other trolls. He’s found out to be a dirty flower-lover, and punished by being sent to New York City, which the king of the trolls calls “a place where nothing grows”. Stanley lands in… Well, you read the title. It’s a huge park right in the middle of town. It’s a full six percent of Manhattan’s land area. You’d think the king would have noticed. Well, he never actually describes the city to the queen. It’s possible he doesn’t know what it is.

But it does apparently have underground caverns.

By this point, I had already worked out that the movie was going to be terrible and stupid, but I thought it would be the regular sort. But then the story takes a HUGE shift and becomes something magically, insanely, horrifyingly awful. See, you’d think, from that opening, that this is a story about the value of individuality and being yourself, right? NOPE. In Central Park, he meets two kids. I’m sure they had names, but I don’t remember them, so let’s just call them Boy Child and Girl Child. Their parents (who are, absurdly, played by Jonathan Pryce and Hayley Mills) are very busy lately, and can’t take them to the park, so the kids go on their own and hook up with Stanley. He shows them his magic thumb (stranger danger!) and grows a “dream boat”, because why not. They get aboard his boat and sail through his dream, and that’s when things get CRAZY.

See, when we’re on that boat, we see Stanley’s dream. He is dreaming of his perfect world, where all the other trolls are friendly, and they all love flowers, and they all share his beige skin and tufted tail... Look, Bluth, when your protagonist literally says “The world would be a better place if everyone thought like me and also looked like me”, you’re coming dangerously close to making a kids’ movie about Hitler. Yeah, I’m Godwinning a kiddie flick. I don’t care. This movie has some of the most messed up morals I’ve seen since Jiminy Cricket graced my screen.

My kingdom for an iceberg.

And it’s not just in this one dream number. I could overlook that. But after his dream boat sails, he lets Boy Child take the wheel, and Boy Child has a fairly mild dream about racing a speedboat around. Stanley is distraught because this is the wrong sort of dream, and they almost get attacked by pirates. It’s Stanley’s magic, the pirates don’t show up because the kid is making them, they show up because his dream upsets Stanley. Basically, Stanley doesn’t like his dream, and tries to kill him. Later, while the kid is asleep, Stanley tells him that he “needs to get some better thoughts”.

There’s ostensibly some moral in here about the kid learning… Well, I’m not sure what. At the beginning, he’s shouting at his parents “WHY CAN’T WE EVER DO WHAT I WANT TO DO!?” and at the end, he’s quietly asking his parents “Today, can we do what I want to do?” I think we’re supposed to get that he’s learned to be respectful, but since his parents were ignoring him at the beginning, and offering to take him somewhere at the end, it looks like they learned a lesson while we weren’t looking. Possibly while they were in England? I’m not really sure what they were doing the whole time. I think the dad’s a lawyer and the mom’s a realtor, but my brain is pretty damaged by now. Whatever it is, they were Busy Parents, and left the kids with the housekeeper.

Shortly thereafter, they learned the difference between a housekeeper and a babysitter.

At the end of the movie, the king and queen of trolls utterly destroy Central Park, and Boy Child gets turned into a troll for some reason. I honestly don’t know why. And I was watching. I was, by this point, projecting it on my wall in order to stave off boredom, so the movie was five feet wide. I couldn’t have looked away for more than half a second, and I still don’t know why he became a troll. Maybe because he was mean to Stanley? When Stanley was too scared to help rescue Girl Child, Boy Child yelled at him and called him a coward, but A) He is, and B) The boy never apologizes or seems to have learned his lesson. He just turns into a troll, and gets a magic thumb that can turn things to stone. The queen has the same power, and also can control other thumbs apparently? So as she’s dying because Stanley turned her into a rosebush (seriously), she makes Boy Child stone Stanley. Then she dies, and Boy Child turns back because her spells were undone with her death, only Stanley is still stone, and at this point, I start using the movie as Nerf target practice.


So then Boy and Girl Child take Stanley to Central Park, where the boy uses his magic thumb that I guess he still has to turn Stanley back, whereupon Stanley conquers the Earth. No, I’m not kidding. He’s seen laughing in a tree and the next thing we know, there’s a montage of New York City being entirely overgrown with vegetation. I mean all of it. Stanley has had enough of man’s rules, and covers the city, and presumably the world, with what Stanley wants. Wasn’t vines choking skyscrapers part of Tyler Durden’s fantasy world? Is Stanley about to start Project Mayhem?

And that’s not even touching on the filler that comprises most of the film. I know it sounds like a lot happened, but that’s maybe 20 minutes worth of story. An astonishingly long portion of story is made up of.
  • Chase scenes
  • Stanley bringing flowers to life and then they dance around.
  • Boat rides.
  • Charles Nelson Reilly’s unfunny hamming.
Speaking of which, I suppose I should talk about the actors.

Cram it, Feivel.

Not much to say, though. Thankfully, Bluth is still good at casting. Reilly may not be all that funny, but he can commit to a bit, and Cloris Leachman as the queen is typically solid. Dom DeLuise (his last role with Bluth) is Stanley, and any moments that I even slightly didn’t want to murder the little freak are entirely down to his acting skill. And the Gender Children’s parents, as I mentioned, are played by Jonathan Pryce and Hayley Mills, rather bafflingly high status actors for characters with like ten lines and two minutes of screen time. Pryce sounds like he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to do an American accent, so he hedged his bets and did half a one. Mills sounds like she knew she was supposed to do an American accent, but only remembers for one out of every six words.

The animation is... Well, it’s actually fine. It’s cheap, and not even close to what Bluth is capable of, but it looks better than this movie deserves. At least Bluth gets his little animation fetishes in early. Sparkles are literally the first thing we see. And I’m beginning to think his love of characters whose skirts fly up to reveal poofy bloomers are a subset of a general fondness for ill-fitting clothes. Boy Child has a shirt that flares out weirdly, and doesn’t quite reach the top of his pants, which are visibly too tight.

The songs are surprisingly inoffensive. Not good, not by any stretch of the imagination. But not as hideously awful as the rest of his. “Absolutely Green”, Stanley’s big dream number, is thankfully free of murder imagery, and DeLuise’s voice carries it nicely.But other than that one, they’re entirely forgettable. The villain sings “I’m the queen of mean”, stuff like that. It’s bad, but tolerably so.

Dammit, Stanley, that cab is someone's freaking job.

This movie hurt me. It’s worse than Home on the Range. It’s worse than Chicken Little. It’s worse than the live-action bits of Osmosis Jones. It’s worse than Rock-a-Doodle. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO SEE THIS MOVIE. Bury it deep underground where it cannot harm anyone. Send it to a place of rock and metal where nothing grows. And tell your damn wife where that is, so she doesn’t send him to Central freaking Park instead.


  • There’s a truly atrocious scene near the beginning where Stanley almost gets caught with a flower by another troll. It’s too tedious to get into, but at the end, the other troll walks away, singing, “I’m a baaad troll! A very baaaad troll!” It’s so dumb, and yet probably the best song in the movie
  • On the way into NYC, Stanley flies over the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and the Tavern on the Green. Just in case you forgot where Central Park is.

That face is just begging for a frying pan.

  • Boy Child has oddly colored hair that makes him appear to be wearing a yarmulke at all times.
  • At one point, Stanley plants an acorn, and it grows into a vine. EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT ACORNS GROW, MOVIE. IT ISN’T VINES.

  • I am informed by my younger brother that the lyricist for Thumbelina did the lyrics for Newsies, which makes him the only person to win a Razzie and a Tony for the same score. Though to be fair, his Razzie winner was taken out of the show for Broadway. He also worked with Manilow before, writing not only “Copacabana”, but also Bette Midler’s song from Oliver and Company. And I’m sorry for not informing you earlier that Barry Manilow was one of the eight hundred songwriters for Oliver and Company. 

  • I rarely feature fanart here, of course, but sometimes it's too good to pass up. Here is the Beast from a direct to video ripoff of the Disney film designed to trick grandmas at the supermarket. The artist was sad that people on the internet made fun of the ripoff beast, so here he is getting comforted by Stanley, Fluttershy from My Little Pony, Rex from We're Back! (watch this space for more info, true believer), and Zazu from The Lion King, who has brought a note from the Disney Beast apologizing for his fans' bad behavior.

It is glorious.
  • Here's that movie, by the way. Not to get too off topic. But seriously, watch the first 45 seconds and see if you can work out what the hell they were thinking and why anyone would defend this movie from mockery.

1 comment:

  1. This movie terrified me as a child. Just reading your excellent review is giving me flashbacks.