Ten minutes into Central Park - the new animated comedy from Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard - comes the kind of true-blue Broadway group number that brings every character and chord crashing together in a burst of overt ambitions and desires.
There's Owen (Leslie Odom Jr), the quietly competent manager of New York City's Central Park, determined to make people care about the land's natural quirks as much as he does. There's his plucky reporter wife Paige (Kathryn Hahn), determined to chase down a harder news story than her bored editor usually assigns. There's their daydreaming daughter Molly (Kristen Bell) and son Cole (Tituss Burgess), determined to love and be loved. There's Bitsy (Stanley Tucci), a malevolent heiress determined to destroy the park, and her long-suffering maid Helen (Daveed Diggs), determined to stick it out until Bitsy finally croaks and leaves her a fortune.
The resulting song interweaves all their storylines and inner monologues with the eager gusto of a kid hopscotching down the sidewalk: sometimes landing outside the lines, but more often just having (and being!) too much fun to care. If you're inclined towards musicals, there's no resisting that kind of enthusiasm, no matter how cliched or saccharine. When it comes to musicals, naked sincerity is usually half the point - a fact that Central Park leans on, hard.
Bouchard and co-creators Nora Smith and Josh Gad have taken the heartwarming pulse of Bob's Burgers and cranked it up to 11. The musical interludes are frequent and wildly catchy, usually catered to their singers' strengths. Odom Jr, for example, gets soaring choruses and talky verses that recall his run as Aaron Burr in the original Hamilton cast, while Cole's preteen melodrama lets Burgess belt with his signature flair. On the other end of the spectrum is Hahn's wonderfully screwball approach to Paige and Tucci's Bitsy, a perfectly maniacal adversary who doesn't exactly get to sing so much as smirk through scheming songs while constantly twirling her (metaphorical) moustache.
The one confusing piece of casting, unfortunately, is Bell's Molly. Bell's more than capable of voicing an awkward teen, but biracial Molly spends most of her time drawing herself into a superhero comic in which her afro puffs have powers. Bell's voice coming out of that character is jarring, and disappointing. She's good, but there are plenty of wonderful black actresses who can sing; why isn't one of them playing this character from a more grounded place?
It's frustrating because Molly and her family make for some of the show's best moments, even as the series volleys between the park and the powerful rich people trying to destroy it for their own interests. Even as the show hones its version of New York City, its characters are sharp and funny enough to keep it zipping along. If it can get a better grip on its setting and give the family comedy at its heart more room amid everything else, Central Park could bloom into something special.
The Vast of Night
Andrew Patterson's startlingly confident micro-budget indie is all about execution. Its B-movie plot is so familiar that writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger unabashedly frame the story as an episode of a TV show called "Paradox Theater", an on-the-nose Twilight Zone imitation that's the closest the film gets to nostalgia. The film has a let's-put-on-a show energy. The audience can sense the cast and crew's verve to not just complete the picture, but pull it off with style.
Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics
Donick Cary's documentary is less a serious dive into its chosen subject than an excuse to have his showbiz acquaintances serve up funny anecdotes about hallucinogenic drug usage. As such, it can hardly help but be entertaining. But if you are looking for real insight you'll find this amiable enterprise doesn't stray far from standard stoner laughs.