Animated show ‘Central Park’: A beautiful love letter to New York
Who doesn’t love Josh Gad, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell voicing animated characters? That alone makes Central Park, the musical animation from the creators of Bob’s Burgers, a truly wholesome treat. But that isn’t all! As you sit through the first episode, you’re bound to feel joyful.
Central Park follows the life of the Tillerman family, who reside in the Edendale “Castle” in the park. Owen Tillerman is the manager of the park. His wife Paige is a local journalist trying to get her big break – a juicy scoop – while dozing off at the council meeting she’s asked to cover.
Their kids Molly & Cole are also strikingly real characters. All of Molly’s actions are under girded by her yearning to belong, to fit in & to feel seen. Cole is a kid in touch with his emotions, specifically his emotions for a dog that belongs to a nasty heiress who is keen on replacing Central Park with sprawling condos.
The narrator, who introduces us to all these characters is none other than a singing troubadour called Birdie, voiced by Josh Gad.
The playfulness of Central Park
Central Park has a certain playful quality to it. The show does not pretend to be – or try too hard to be – something that it’s not. The characters are unabashedly being just who they are. There’s no pretense, no lies, no pithy quotes or bumper sticker expressions. It subverts the dramatic antics in favor of an authentic portrayal.
In a way, Central Park is an ode to the bond we share with our cities in all their crowded glory. In this case, the city happens to be New York. It’s the city where people are busy chasing new dreams & hustling through the ones that were shattered.
The introductory tunes by Josh Gad (as the narrator Birdie) bring the spirit of Central Park to life. He calls it “grandiose and glorious” as he croons nothing short of a paean for the park, “It’s a haven, it’s a jewel, and it even has a pool.”
The quirks of the park are also pointed out as Birdie looks around to find cops patrolling, kids hiding weed, rollerblader-skaters tripping, yogis posing in a downward dog position, cozy family picnics, churro carts, and drummers.
The screen cuts to a park bench – two men from vastly different economic strata seated together, reading the same newspaper – as Birdie calls the park “an equalizer.”
Welcome to New York – it’s been waiting for you
Central Park has been the backdrop of many, many movies & television shows. How did this urban park in Manhattan reach such an iconic status? Central Park’s a safe haven for New Yorkers & tourists alike. It’s as much an escapist’s nook as it is a jogger’s track. It’s this versatility that makes it so iconic.
Perhaps, Central Park hits so emotionally because of the times we are in. This has, somehow, amplified our longing for carefree strolls through large swathes of the park. The longing is simultaneously nostalgic & melancholic.
In the show, the family sets out to save Central Park from demolition. This plot runs the risk of multiple cliches. We’ve seen too many romanticized tales where development & heritage are at odds. But Central Park is about the family & their bond more than anything else. There’s local politics, there’s greed, there’s moral conflict, but ultimately, there’s love.
Central Park much more than just the spatial & visual aesthetics. Just hear Kristen Bell break into the song “Weirdos Make Great Superheroes” in her role as Molly. The song encapsulates the spirit of New York. It is the city that makes everyone feel just as much at home as it makes them feel alienated.