A TROLL IN CENTRAL PARK – Robert Folk
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Producers Don Bluth and Gary Goldman had a long history of successful animated films that included “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time”. With their company now set in Ireland, Bluth decided to utilize traditional Celtic mythology for his next film. In this new story, Stanley is a friendly troll blessed with the gift of a wondrous and magical green thumb that allows him to grow flowers by merely sticking it into the ground. Unfortunately the evil troll Queen Gnorga banishes him from her realm to modern day Manhattan for his life generating gift and kindness to humans. Stanley adapts to his new cave home in Central Park and befriends Gus and Rosie who unknown to their parents have set out on a magnificent adventure. But all is endangered when Queen Gnorga journeys to Manhattan, armed with her purple thumb intent on turning everything she touches to stone. As is fitting, goodness prevails and our heroes defeat and overthrow the evil Queen. The film was not a critical success and failed at the box office, not even coming close to recovering its production costs.
Bluth had just completed “Rock-A-Doodle” with Robert Folk and was very pleased with his score. He stated “We wanted something classical, so that in twenty years the movie would still work.” As such he decided to again employ Folk for Troll. Folk relates that Goldman felt strongly that audiences responded to color and that the music should be thematic to color when evoking an emotional response. Folk agreed and relished his assignment saying “Animated films tend to get big orchestral scores, with choir. The personality and character of the themes get to reflect the children’s world a little more, so you get to be ethereal and dreamlike, and speak to elements of magic.” He was given an orchestra of eighty along with the Irish National Chamber Choir and the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choristers for the project. Folk chose to underpin the score thematically be drawing from two of its songs. The utopian Main Theme, which speaks to the story’s ethos of friendship and harmony with nature, would be drawn from “Welcome To My World. The evocative lyricism and inspiring wordless chorale simply sparkles, perfectly supporting the wonder and magic of the green energy emitted by Stanley’s thumb. This wonderful theme opens and closes the film. The second core theme, the Absolutely Green Theme is drawn from the song “Absolutely Green”. This theme speaks to Stanley’s wondrous gift of floral creation, animates the film and is rendered in a multiplicity of forms. Lastly we have the darkly comic and syncopated Queen Gnorga’s Theme that is written with a dance like sensibility. Though this quirky theme animates the evil Queen and her hapless consort, in crucial scenes it is expressed with a potent and dramatic power.
We open our adventure with the wondrous “Main Title and Magic Thumb”, which is an absolute delight and score highlight. The cue features interplay of the score’s two core themes and perfectly captures the wonder of Stanley’s magical realm. Expressed in classic overture form, we open with the refulgent Main Theme whose sparkling ascent with wordless chorus is simply breath taking. Flowing like a dance the theme weaves a shimmering tapestry of Stanley’s world. After an interlude by solo English horn, an extended playful passage with a child like spirit flows into his Absolutely Green Theme, which is introduced at 3:02 with harp glissandi and a glockenspiel. First carried by solo flute and later by lush strings and full orchestra, the theme flows with a carefree innocence and happiness. This complex cue features superb writing for woodwinds, inspiring boy’s chorus, sparkling chimes and perfectly emotes the child like awe and wonder of our magical realm. The specter of the Evil Queen is felt in the conclusion of the cue, which features a portentous marcia della terrore.
“Meteor Ride” speaks to Stanley’s banishment to Manhattan and opens with a portentous prelude, which leads to an introduction of Queen Gnorga’s Theme by horns. Its syncopated expression is dark and yet comic and features spritely woodwinds, chimes and odd percussive effects. At 1:07 Stanley is banished and we are treated to an orchestral tour de force as he is propelled to his new home. With his arrival the ambiance changes and we again are bathed with the playful woodwinds and sparkling chimes of the Absolutely Green Theme as Stanley explores his new home. Very nicely done! In “The N.Y.C. Experience” Folk provides us with a frenetic and dazzlingly orchestral ride that speaks to the high-octane energy of the “city that never sleeps”. Fusing elements of the Folies Bergère and madcap chase music, we are treated to astounding animato strings, trilling woodwinds, spritely horns and propulsive percussion. Tthis is a fun cue and one hell of a ride!
In “Nuts and Butterflies” Rosie chases a butterfly into Stanley’s cave where she meets him for the first time. This is an amazing cue where Folk entertains us with some versatile writing. We open on a plaintive solo English horn from which explodes what can only be described as classic Broadway! Wow, Folk evokes the quintessential New York vibe and creates the perfect sound to juxtapose the magical realm of Stanley. As we shift our focus to Rosie beginning at 3:38 the modern textures dissipate, replaced by an animated Absolutely Green Theme, now expressed with a joie de vivre, which weaves and dances with Rosie’s playful frolicking. This cue was perfectly conceived and attenuated the story’s narrative.
“That First Kiss” is a tender cue alight with twinkling glockenspiel and boy’s chorus, which features a wondrous interplay of the Main Theme and Absolutely Green Theme. We open with a delicate rendering of the Main Theme born by woodwinds, glockenspiel and boy’s chorus. We segue in to a happy dance infused with a joie de vivre as Stanley magically animates a flower, which captivates Rosie with its amazing Russian dancing skills. Folk skillfully evokes Rosie’s sense of wonder with a stirring conclusion that highlights the Absolutely Green Theme, now beautifully alight with twinkling glockenspiel and chimes. This cue is just magical!
“Gus Meets Stanley” features Gus finally meeting Stanley. After a comic opening and some drama, the music becomes child-like and playful as fragmentary Absolutely Green Theme bounces to and fro. In “Waltzing” we open with the Absolutely Green Theme that flows as a carefree dance abounding with youthful innocence until a shattering interruption by the Queen Gnorga Theme at 1:10. We hear her discordant, syncopated and comic theme also unfold in dance like fashion. “The Old Soft Petal” opens with the Absolutely Green Theme carried by solo flute and kindred woodwinds, which after a spirited interlude shifts gears into a comic dance that again seems infused with a Broadway sensibility.
“Ride the Sail Boat” is a remarkable score highlight and perhaps my favorite cue. We see a confrontation where poor Gus is cursed by Queen Gnorga to cry a sea of tears. We open with a dissonant clash from which Queen Gnorga’s Theme erupts. Carried by an English horn in a repeating triplet, the theme unfolds upon woodwinds as a dark syncopated danza macabra. The Absolutely Green Theme attempts to rise upon woodwinds and sparkling percussion, yet never breaks free as the music grows with a menacing storm-like fury. Folk whips the orchestra into a swirling torrent that seems all-consuming and yet the fury dissipates and gives rise to a refulgent Absolutely Green Theme. The ascent of the Absolutely Green Theme from out the Queen Gnorga’s Theme just leaves me breathless, as it is one of those film score moments.
“Bed of Flowers” is a complex cue that features a fine interplay of themes. We open with a prelude of sparkling glockenspiel and trilling woodwinds, which create a magical ambiance. From this arises a spirited rendering of the Absolutely Green Theme that is just glorious! Soon the music’s energy dissipates and we flow into a gentile and sentimental expression of the Main Theme atop glockenspiel, chimes, harp and boy’s chorus. Yet the moment is lost with the unwelcome intrusion of Queen Gnorga, again carried by her dark syncopated theme. Slowly and inexorably her theme gains increasing potency rising like a tempest as she summons a tornado to transport her to Central Park. Yet as quickly as it came, its energy dissipates. We close with a tender and moving rendering of the Absolutely Green Theme, again carried by woodwinds and alight with glockenspiel and chimes. This cue is a score highlight and its concluding passage is just sublime!
“Gnorga in the Park” features some potent action writing. We open with the dark and comic Queen Gnorga’s Theme, which announces her presence in Central Park. From out this rises a wondrous and unexpected scherzo that counters Queen Gnorga’s darkness. Yet this bright counter is short-lived as her theme rises and potentiates some of the score’s most inspired action writing. The concluding comic coda is a nice touch. In “Wake Up!” the alarm sounds for our heroes as the evil Queen approaches. Folk whips the orchestra into a tempest and we experience a rising sense of trepidation as the music builds with a spirited determination. This is just exceptional writing.
“The Final Battle” is an absolutely extraordinary cue and a score highlight. It features a contest of good versus evil played out with a fine interplay of the Absolutely Green Theme and Queen Gnorga’s Theme. Sadly our heroes’ victory comes with a heavy cost; Gus is turned into a pig-snouted troll and poor Stanley is turned into stone. We open darkly with portentous chords as the Queen approaches carried by her dark yet comic syncopated theme. Running counter to this are woodwinds and twinkling glockenspiel, which support Gus and Rosie. The battle is joined at 2:02 when Folk whips the orchestra into frenzy with the Absolutely Green Theme militarized with great dramatic impact as Gus, Rosie and their flower allies battle Queen Gnorga and her consort. We hear Queen Gnorga’s Theme grow more menacing becoming dissonant at 2:52 when she turns Gus into a troll. We change gears with a scene change to Stanley, which ushers in some absolutely spirited and zany circus chase music as he races to rescue Gus and Rosie. The militarized Absolutely Green Theme returns as Gus and Rosie continue the battle until a crescendo of horn chords signal Rosie falling off a cliff at 4:15. Lacrimoso strings convey her loss, yet sadness gives way to celebratory joy as we see Stanley and Rosie rise over the cliff in his flying boat! Yet the Queen is not to be denied as she leaps and tackles Gus. Stanley comes to Gus’ rescue and challenges her to a contest of thumbs, which although seemingly inconclusive never the less allows them to escape in his flying boat. Folk marks this magical moment with celebratory joy as our heroes soar aloft to freedom. We continue with a dramatic ascent of strings as Gnorga remotely exerts control over Gus’s troll thumb to force him to turn Stanley to stone. Clashing cymbals and dark crashing chords signal the tragedy as the flying ship crashes at Gus and Rosie’s apartment. We conclude with a dramatic statement of the Absolutely Green Theme as the residual effects of Stanley’s thumb battle turns the Queen into a rose bush. She meets a fitting demise when she is sucked into the vortex of a cyclone. Wow, what a gem of a cue!
In “Home and Family” we hear the Absolutely Green Theme carried now with a more contemporaneous sound. Guitar, strings and boy’s choir sound as a forlorn Gus and Rosie return to their apartment without Stanley whose stone body has fallen into a garbage can. In the morning a plaintive oboe, strings and boy’s choir emote Gus’s anguish as he sits on the front stairs holding a petrified Stanley. We hear a lyrical rendering of the Absolutely Green Theme as they return to a tornado ravaged Central Park. After setting Stanley atop a park pedestal Gus snaps his fingers, creating his own magical green thumb. He reaches out and touches Stanley hoping to reanimate him. Apparently failing, they leave, yet woodwinds, glockenspiel glissandi, lyrical strings and boy’s choir herald Stanley’s to return to life. We conclude with magical wonder as Stanley uses his green thumb to restore the flowers and foliage to Central Park. Abounding in unabashed sentimentality, this concluding cue offers enduring testimony to Folk’s grasp of the film’s emotional narrative.
“End Credits” is a score highlight and opens with a glorious ascent of choir, sparkling glockenspiel and woodwinds, which usher in a wondrous and celebratory rendering of the Main Theme. We then flow into an equally beautiful lyrical restatement of the Absolutely Green Theme. Abounding with gentile grace, tenderness and a sense of wonder, this cue is a joy to behold. The concluding melodic line features solo oboe, kindred woodwinds, strings and solo trumpet, which bring our magical journey to a most satisfying and heartfelt end.
I must thank Douglass Fake, Nick Redman, Roger Feigelson and Intrada for this most welcome and magnificent world premiere release of Robert Folk’s complete score. The score was restored from the original two-track digital session masters and the sound quality is excellent. Folk’s effort here truly succeeds on all counts and clearly transcends the film. Written from a child’s perspective, he perfectly captures the child-like innocence of Gus and Rosie as well as the ethereal wonder of Stanley’s magical realm. He provides a multiplicity of themes that are perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and supportive of its emotional narrative. I must say, that this is one of the finest modern animated scores I have heard and so whole-heartedly recommend it for your collection.
Buy the Troll in Central Park soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title and Magic Thumb (5:40)
- Meteor Ride (2:52)
- The N.Y.C. Experience (2:42)
- Nuts and Butterflies (8:17)
- That First Kiss (3:47)
- Gus Meets Stanley (1:35)
- Waltzing (2:29)
- The Old Soft Petal (1:53)
- Ride the Sail Boat (5:40)
- Bed of Flowers (7:04)
- Gnorga in the Park (3:41)
- Wake Up! (2:40)
- The Final Battle (7:05)
- Home and Family (2:58)
- End Credits (5:32)
Running Time: 64 minutes 27 seconds
Intrada INTISC195 (1994/2012)
Music composed and conducted by Robert Folk. Performed by The Irish Film Orchestra, the Irish National Chamber Choir and the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choristers. Orchestrations by Robert Folk, Chris Boardman, Jon Kull and Pete Tomaschek. Recorded and mixed by Brian Masterson. Edited by Stephen M. Davis and Jonathan Stevens. Album produced by Douglass Fake, Nick Redman and Roger Feigelson.