Perks of Park Life
Tired of living with their mean foster mother J.J. (T.J. Hargrave) and his sister Laurie (Lisa Richards) run away into Central park. With no money they are forced to steal food but come into some good fortune when they stumble across a tree house built in the 1930's. Making it their home in the trees they find friendship with Mrs. Miller (Ruth Gordon) an old lady who they leave messages for on her favourite park bench. But have to make a choice over to remain hidden or come out from their hiding place when a thug who J.J. had a run in with causes trouble.
How big is Central Park? I ask because I have never been to America and so have only ever seen it on TV shows and in movies. Yet ironically as I watched "The Prince of Central Park" it felt like I had been there because so many of the locations in this sweet little movie have been used in other movies making it feel familiar even for those like me who have never been there. I mention this because part of the movie feels like a tourist piece with its numerous snapshots of life in the park from old ladies having morning strolls, Italian families having picnics to teenagers playing Frisbee; remember this is very much a product of the 70s.
So as to what actually goes on in "The Prince of Central Park", well in many ways it is a typical child's adventure movie from a bygone era where we have two runaways relying on each other and their wits to survive. Yes that also makes it a bit of a wish fulfilment movie as I know as a child I would dream of running away and living with no rules over what to do or when. The unique aspect of it is that rather than working their way across country in the wilderness the runaways stay in Central Park. It is sweet, charming and a pleasant change from what passes as family entertainment these days but with just the right amount of typical 1970's darkness with a bad guy to make it not all peaches and cream.
What is surprising is that both T.J. Hargrave and Lisa Richards never went on to have movie careers because they both play their parts very well. It is that sweetness they bring as siblings who are protective of each other which really makes this movie. Sadly Hargrave was one of those who died in 2001 when the World Trade Center collapsed.
What this all boils down to is that "The Prince of Central Park" is a charming little family adventure movie from the 1970s which seems to have been forgotten about by many. It is a charming piece of old fashioned entertainment with the unique idea of keeping it in Central Park and that is what makes it fun even for those who have never been to Central Park. Please note as of writing this 1977 version has never made it on to DVD only video but there is a more recent adaptation of Evan Rhodes' novel available on DVD so do not mistakenly think that is this movie.