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Coming to AppleTV+ — A New Animated Musical Series Set in Central Park

Posted on May 27, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright AppleTV+ 2020

One of the most difficult challenges in show business is a Broadway musical, with original songs that illuminate the characters and move the storyline forward. Tony-nominated Josh Gad (“The Book of Mormon”), best known to families as Olaf in the “Frozen” movies and LeFou in the live action “Beauty and the Beast” pitched an idea to Loren Bouchard, of “Bob’s Burgers.” Why not create an animated television series with an all-star cast and make each episode a full-on Broadway-style musical with different composers for each one?  And include themes not just about families and growing up but about civic engagement?

That is the story behind “Central Park” debuting May 29 on AppleTV+.

Birdie, Josh Gad’s character, is something of a narrator and commentator in the story, which takes place in and around the title location. “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. plays the park manager, Owen Tillerman, married to Paige (Kathryn Hahn), a journalist who wants to write more important stories. Their children are Molly (Kristen Bell), who feels like a dork and wants to be a superhero, and and Cole (Titus Burgess), who has a crush on a lost dog he returned to her owner, an ultra-wealthy woman named Bitsy Brandenham, who is plotting to take over Central Park and turn it into a real estate development. Bitsy has an assistant named Helen, and both characters are voiced by male actors: Stanley Tucci and “Hamilton’s” Daveed Diggs.

In an interview with a small group of reporters, producer Loren Bouchard talked about creating the show.

What was the idea behind casting Stanley Tucci as a tiny little old evil rich lady?

Our entire cast came from our connection to Josh. He has a really impressive set of friends. Stanley Tucci said yes and so it was on us to figure out the best way to use a voice like that. For us there is something so nice about our villain, who is this little tiny old lady, have a voice like Stanley’s coming out of her mouth. He goes so low but he also goes way up high and he threatens to steal every scene. He is incredibly talented.

One of my favorite songs in the show is “Weirdos Make Great Superheroes” by Sara Bareilles. Why did you choose to focus on the underdogs?

Elevating the underdog feels worthwhile. We could just keep on making “Bob’s Burgers.” We love making it and it would keep the lights on.  But if we’re going to expand and do more work and take on other projects there has to be some reason. It can’t just be to make a few people laugh and put some bright color on the screen and call it a day. We came to this trying to make sure this thing has a reason to exist. The characters are underdogs to some extent and the park itself is fragile and needs to be protected and we approached every episode from that point of view.

Tell us about capturing the look and spirit of Central Park.

You want to draw the trees and the flowers and all that but you also want to draw the cracks in the sidewalk. You want to tell a story where you feel the spot where there’s gum on the sidewalk. You can’t make it too pretty; it has to have the flaws on it, too. And the sounds, too.  In the middle of the park you know you’re in New York, but it’s filtered through the trees. We spent a lot of time on the small things you don’t notice right away but we hope let you know you are there.

Central Park is a place we all feel we know, even if we’ve never been there. But it is big enough that you can tell a lot of stories in that space.  Once we figured out that it would be the caretaker and his family it really crystalized. They are worried about the sprinkler heads and the garbage pick-up and all of the threats to this place. It did pick up a lot of momentum pretty fast.  It felt like a unique place to tell stories. We could have made it any park but because this is a unique park, iconic. People come from all over the world to see it and take pictures of it.

What made Apple the right partner for this project?

We had this almost blessed experience. We made a few minutes of animation and there was emotion in the room. It was thrilling. They do a good job of being the audience, really terrific.

The focus on the caretaker seems especially timely these days.

I like thinking about this stuff even on “Bob’s Burgers.” Even with “Bob’s Burgers,” you think it’s just about keeping the restaurant open and then you realize what the restaurant means to the street, what the street means to the town, what does the town mean. Central Park means so many things to so many people. Because we get to invent our own reality we wanted to make it in danger, to make it more fragile.  That was the kind of existential threat we wanted our characters up against, not just to the park but to the idea of preserving public space. And now it seems to be even more relevant as everything is more fragile than we thought. There are so many things we take for granted. It seems like a good story to tell even in the best of times, to remind us that there are people who are truly heroic because they are taking care of public space. Those are people it is fun to tell a story about.



Movies for the Homebound X: Love Stories You Probably Missed

Posted on May 26, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Magnolia 2008
We all love romance. And we’ve all seen the recent classics: “Notting Hill,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Notebook,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and all-time classics like “The Philadelphia Story” and “My Favorite Wife.” (If you haven’t, hey, watch them!) But you probably missed these, and they are all delights and blissfully romantic.

“I Love You Again” The all-time record-holders for romantic movie couples are William Powell and Myrna Loy, who not only created the greatest married couple in the history of movies with the Thin Man series but made other great films as well. “Libeled Lady” is one of the best, but my favorite is this one, about a stiff, stingy man who is hit on the head and discovers he is in fact a con man who has had amnesia for years, during which he got married and worked at a pot factory in a small town. So he decides to set up a swindle until he starts to fall for the woman he married but cannot quite remember. It is clever, sweet, and very funny. And romantic.

“Next Stop Wonderland” This is one of two movies on the list where we fall in love with the lovers before they fall in love with each other. Hope Davis is radiant as a just-dumped (by Philip Seymour Hoffman) woman whose mother takes out a personal ad for her.

“And Now My Love” In this French film, everything that has happened in the lives of two people (and in pretty much everything that has ever happened) seems to be for the purpose of getting two people together. By the time they are about to meet at the very end, we have been on the journey will them and know happy ever after is what comes next.

“Happy Accidents” The writer/director of “Next Stop Wonderland,” Brad Anderson, also wrote and directed this sweet story with Marisa Tomei as a young woman with a history of bad relationships who meets a man who seems great except that he insists he is a time traveler from the future.

“Ira and Abby” Jennifer Westfelft wrote and stars in the story of a man who has just gotten out of a relationship because he could not commit (a terrific Chris Messina) and impulsively marries the slightly nutty but very charming and warm-hearted young woman he meets at a gym (Westfeldt).

“The Baxter” If you’ve seen a romantic comedy, you’ve seen a wedding that was interrupted at the last minute when the bride’s true love burst in to carry her off. Well, according to his film, the poor loser left at the alter is called “the Baxter.” And this movie is the story of the Baxter, played by Michael Showalter, with an outstanding cast that includes Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks, and Justin Theroux, with a sensational performance by Peter Dinklage as a wedding planner.

The High Note

Posted on May 25, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, and suggestive references
Profanity: Brief strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references, non-explicit situation
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 25, 2020

Copyright 2020 Focus
If you find yourself, in what all the commercials are calling “these challenging times” looking for cinematic comfort food, “The High Note” is here, and when I say “here,” I mean coming to you in your home. One of the films switched to streaming as the question of when, how, and whether movie theaters will open remains unsettled, “The High Note” is entertaining without being challenging. If its twist is among the least surprising ever scripted, that itself has its own satisfactions when everything else is so uncertain. It’s a Cinderella tale with (not much of a spoiler alert) a happy ending, in a glamorous setting with beautiful people and some good songs.

Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is personal assistant to a world-famous, if slightly fading singer named Grace Davis, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of a world-famous and never-fading superstar Diana Ross. Grace has not released any new music in many years, but still fills arenas with adoring fans. Her manager (Ice Cube) is urging her to accept a very lucrative residency in Las Vegas. She can stop touring and sing her hits every night for as long as she wants.

No one pays much attention to Maggie, unless Grace needs some green juice or some highly inconvenient errand run. But Maggie loves music and, though Grace does not realize it, Maggie is Grace’s truest fan, the only one around her who sees her as a songwriter and performer and not just as a nostalgia cash cow. Seeing the world of music, even from the edges, inspires Maggie to want to be a producer. She hesitantly disagrees when a successful producer wants to remix one of Grace’s hits by adding synth, with digitally created voices for back-up singers. And when she meets a young singer/songwriter who busks outside of a grocery store (fast-rising star Kelvin Harrison, Jr. of “Luce” and “Waves”), she tells him she is a producer and persuades him to let her bring him into a recording studio.

So far, so good. But then it veers off the rails. Cinderella without a godmother makeover — fine. “All About Eve” without the ferocious, greedy ambition — also fine. But then we get a wholly unnecessary scheme so preposterous that even Lucy and Ethel would consider idiotic. And Maggie is supposed to be savvy about the music business and supremely competent. The only benefit of this ridiculousness is a lovely scene with Eddie Izzard, who brings such an air of lived-in wisdom that for a moment it almost makes sense. Almost. And the non-surprising surprise is on top of that.

Ross is fun to watch as the diva, especially when she is on stage, the many opportunities she has had to watch from the wings paying off as she brings authentic star quality to her interactions with the audience (for better) and the crew (for not so much better). She’s especially good in a scene where Grace gets real about the prospects for an over-40 woman of color in the music business. Johnson is sadly underused. She has such a rare gift for comedy, glimpsed in “22 Jump Street” and “The Five-Year Engagement” and yet Hollywood keeps casting her as a wide-eyed little mouse. She would have been better cast as the high-spirited roommate (Harrison is the one to watch her, with very bit of the star quality the part or the goofy housekeeper (though Zoë Chao and June Diane Raphael are reliably delightful in those roles). Harrison has all of the star quality his character requires and more, especially impressive given the wide range of his recent appearances.

There are moments when a movie’s predictability is an advantage rather than otherwise. It benefits this film that it is released I such a time, into our homes, where we most appreciate its comforts.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language, some sexual references and a non-explicit situation, and questions of parentage.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Maggie tell David the truth about herself? Which song was your favorite? If you were producing a song, how would you begin?

If you like this, try: “Music and Lyrics” with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant and “Black-is” with Tracee Ellis Ross