Sometimes, revisiting childhood favorites is rewarding. Looking back, you can see how a piece of media you watched when you were younger has lasted the test of time, or how it shaped your current tastes. And sometimes, nostalgia glasses are rose-tinted, and rewatching something you used to love can remind you that sometimes kids like some questionable shit.
Sadly, such was the case when I sat down to rewatch one of the staples of my childhood, A Troll in Central Park. While the movie tries really hard to be cute, it’s easily one of the more unmemorable of the Don Bluth animated oeuvre.
A Troll in Central Park follows Stanley, a troll who’s been exiled from his homeland due to his love of beautiful flowers and plants. Trolls are supposed to be nasty, gross creatures who hate beauty, but Stanley has a literal green thumb—when he touches the ground with it, plants grow. The evil Queen Gnorga curses him and sends him to New York City, which she thinks is the perfect punishment due to its industrialization, but as luck would have it, he lands in Central Park. There he meets Gus and Rosie, two kids who are playing in the park. Rosie is just a toddler, but Gus is a bitter child who’s angry more often than not because of his absent father. As Gus and Stanley get to know one another, Gus learns about following his dreams and how powerful his love for his sister can be.
Not all is well, though; when Gnorga realizes that Stanley is living it up in exile, she is livid. She decides to go find him and enact punishment Plan B: turn him to stone with her own thumb power. She descends on Central Park in a tornado, destroying property, stealing Rosie, and turning Gus—whose tantrums she had watched with glee, declaring them troll-like—into an actual troll to draw Stanley out. Despite this, however, Stanley refuses to stand up to her until Gus calls him out on his cowardice. Stanley uses his power to turn Gnorga into a rosebush, and the kids get safely home, but at a cost: in her death-throes, Gnorga uses her power to turn Stanley to stone.
It wouldn’t be complete without a happily ever after, though, so of course Gus manages to call on Stanley’s green thumb power and revive him from his statuesque state. In celebration, Stanley revives the dead foliage of Central Park, and then… covers the rest of New York in greenery? I’m all for environmentalism, dude, but I’m pretty sure all that’s gonna do is fuck up NYC’s infrastructure worse than The Avengers’ Battle of New York.
I wanted to love this movie in 2014 just as much as I loved it a decade and a half ago, but it was hard to do. The musical numbers were so unmemorable that as I write this, only an hour after I finished the movie, I can’t summon a single tune. (Rather, my brain keeps unhelpfully supplying “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors.) The main human characters are so young that they don’t really have characters yet, and for some reason when they go to Central Park they’re the only people there.
The trolls add an extra layer of confusion. It’s hard to understand the scope of the trolls’ power compared to their size, for instance. Gnorga complains when hunting Stanley that Central Park is the size of three fairy creature kingdoms put together, but has no trouble leveling it in said hunt. Stanley has enough juice in his thumb to turn the entire island of Manhattan into a garden, but never used it to defend himself until the end of the movie.
And the ending doesn’t make sense. Gus literally sleeps off being turned into a troll—he’s got a pig nose when he climbs into bed but is a human kid when he wakes up. We briefly see a news program mentioning that a freak tornado touched down in Central Park, and that’s how they’re justifying the damage, which, okay. Adults justifying magic with the most reasonable scientific excuse while the children know better is a common trope in fairy tales. But you have to follow through with it the right way, and immediately revealing the existence of some sort of magic intervention to the world at large by greenifying an entire city leaves some bigger questions that need answering. No longer are we concerned about Stanley’s well-being, or worried whether Gus will be able to reconnect with his father. I’m left wondering how the fuck these two worlds will interact now that the trolls have unambiguously revealed their existence to the human world.
All that said, it’s probably unsurprising that the movie fails from a feminist perspective as well. There’s only one female character of note, and she’s the maniacal villain. Of course she’s fat, because as the troll queen, she emphasizes everything that women ought not to be: mean, bossy, unattractive, and obsessed with gross things, in addition to her weight. She also constantly abuses her spouse, a browbeaten troll who only ever gets his way by manipulating his cantakerous wife. The only person of color in the whole film is Maria, Gus’s parents’ housekeeper, who has about thirty seconds of screentime all told. And there’s obviously nothing in the way of LGBTQ+ or disability representation.
I had a lot of hope that in rewatching this movie, it’d be just as good as wee Saika remembered it being. Unfortunately, it didn’t really deliver on, well, any front. Possibly the most high-stakes part of the movie was when my VCR chewed up the VHS, and I had to call upon long-forgotten skills to effectively remove it and wind the tape back into the cartridge. If you find yourself with the urge to revisit this film, do yourself a favor and pop in some quality Don Bluth like Ferngully or Anastasia instead.