For a selective audience, Trolls will always be the plastic dolls with colourful hair that have circulated playgrounds since the 1960s. Designed by Danish craftsman Thomas Dom, ‘Troll dolls’ sat atop pencils and dangled on key-rings for decades. But then, in 2016, Dreamworks Animations adapted the brand and released a musically-charged animation, with an all-star cast and eye-popping visuals.
Co-directed by Mike Mitchel (The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) and Walt Dohrn (Shrek Forever After), Trolls grossed a staggering $346M at the box office. It even received an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Original Song’, and its success spawned several spin-offs, including a half-hour holiday special and a Netflix cartoon series called Trolls: The Beat Goes On!
When Dohrn stepped in to direct to the sequel, the stage was set for Trolls World Tour to hit cinemas in April 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cinemas across the globe locked their doors and many studios were forced to postpone their releases. Universal Studios was one of the few exceptions, announcing that their Trolls sequel would be released as scheduled on video-on-demand (VOD). With the world staying at home and streaming for entertainment, this move paid off handsomely. After three weeks, Trolls World Tour reportedly made $100M as a digital rental, becoming the biggest digital film debut ever.
Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) has been happy and content ruling the land of the Pop Trolls, with Branch (Justin Timberlake) waiting for an opportune chance to profess his love for her. After receiving an invitation from the Queen of Rock, Barb (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom), Poppy soon discovers her people are but one of six different Troll tribes. Scattered across the kingdom are a half-dozen different lands devoted to various genres of music: Pop, Rock, Funk, Country, Techno, and Classical. All of which posses a string that allows them to play their own style of music. However, Barb wants to possess all six strings of music so she can play a chord so powerful, Rock will reign supreme. With the fate of the world at stake, Poppy and Branch set out to visit all the other lands to unify the Trolls in harmony.
The characters we all know and love are back to entertain us once again. Anna Kendrick (A Simple Favor) and Justin Timberlake (The Social Network) are as charming as ever; Kendrick cheerful and upbeat to match Poppy’s optimistic personality, with Timberlake remaining cynical and grounded as Branch. Their palpable energy and vocal chemistry work wonders, making their journey quite endearing. In addition, plenty of old familiar side characters from the first movie return. Most notably is Ron Funches’ (6 Underground) character, Cooper. This time around he’s given a little more development beyond pooping patisseries, as Cooper is attempting to find more Trolls like him as he resembles a giraffe with four legs rather than his two-legged counterparts.
The returning cast is joined by a plethora of celebrities who voice some of the supporting characters. Rachel Bloom is the standout, making a fun addition as Bar, the ruler of the Rock Trolls. As she demonstrated in The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019), Bloom has the right amount of goofy humour and anarchic attitude to create a memorable villain. Sam Rockwell (Jojo Rabbit) delivers an interesting twist as Hickory, a Country Troll who comes to Poppy’s rescue; Kelly Clarkson (Uglydolls) adds a level of flamboyance to the musical numbers, as the Dolly Parton lookalike Delta Dawn; while George Clinton and Mary J. Blige are perfectly cast as King Quincy and Queen Essence, the rulers of Funk. As a side note, it was enjoyable seeing rock sensation Ozzy Osbourne continue his self-parody as Barb’s father, King Thrash. His mumbling sounds matched the character flawlessly. Although most of these characters are minor, the talents behind them elevate their animated on-screen counterparts.
Co-directors Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith (The Power Puff Girls) successfully replicate the all-singing, all-dancing formula that proved successful with the original. From the first scene, we’re pulled back into the magical world of the Trolls, with eye-catching visuals and a jukebox of toe-tapping melodies. Like the predecessor, it’s in the animation where Trolls World Tour truly shines. Dohrn and production designer Kendal Cronkhite (Madagascar) keeps the candy-coated visuals bright and vivid. It’s an attack on all of the senses and carries the same colourful aesthetic that made the original fun and appealing. Everything in the environment appears as it was made up using scrapbook materials. Felt, velcro, embroidery, and glitter are all used to replace water, fire, and foliage.
Where the animation excels is Andy Harbek’s (Kung Fu Panda) character design. Timothy Lamb’s original look of the Pop Trolls are still as glittery and colourful as ever, and his new designs for the various other Trolls have an incredible amount of detail. The Rock Trolls resemble the punk-rock band The Ramones, as they drive their Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)-style vehicles around. The Funk Trolls ride around on spinning vinyl infused with funkadelic tunes. Even the Techno Trolls glide along swimmingly with a digitalised neon glow as they dance to the beat of EDM. There’s never a lack of visual variety in every frame.
With such a diverse cast, Trolls World Tour expands its repertoire of music. While Trolls featured pop hits, the sequel showcases tracks from a variety of different genres. Renditions of old and recent songs including Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” to Daft Punk’s “One More Time” all make an appearance. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Trolls movie without a handful of original songs from Timberlake himself. After gaining an Oscar-nomination for the 2016’s earworm “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, he returns writing four original songs for the sequel. The melodically charged and catchy “Just Sing” is easily the standout. Acting as the climactic anthem for togetherness and acceptance. Although the soundtrack isn’t as infectious as the original, it’s still fun and appealing. The new genres of music are a welcomed addition and add a nice variety.
This is very much an animated fare, but at the centre lies a really heartwarming and necessary message. Given the events of the past several months, it’s incredible how prescient some of the themes are. A particular moment when Poppy cries out “I don’t want a world where people are living in isolation” felt particularly poignant. Our world is currently forcing us to stay socially distant from one another, thus rekindling fears and divisiveness. Similar to Dr Suess’ children’s tale The Sneetches, Trolls World Tour is brave enough to tell its audience that it’s okay to be different. The concept of each music genre representing a different Troll tribe showcases the diverse characters perfectly. Although adults may feel that the saccharine tone is somewhat forced down their throat. Personally, I thought it was a great way for children to learn not to judge people based on their appearance. As Poppy points out, “if we look the same and act the same, that’s not harmony”. Differences are normal and an interesting part of life, but it’s how we treat others that maintain a harmonious society. It’s a universal message that is easily presented for all ages to understand.
While the concept of introducing different Trolls is remarkably ambitious, what proves harder for the five credited scriptwriters is coming up with a substantial story that’s more sophisticated than a quest narrative. Returning screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger attempt to bring some continuity to the franchise. However, with Maya Forbes (Monsters vs. Aliens), Wallace Wolodarsky (The Rocker), and Elizabeth Tippet (Wilfred) onboard, the story becomes overstuffed. The main conflict surrounding Barb searching for the six musical strings undeniably feels like Thanos’ quest in Avengers: Infinity Wars (2018). There are efforts at weaving in a sub-plot about the need to address the sins of the past, and “history is written by the victors” that were visited in Disney’s Frozen II (2019). However, with five writers stirring the pot, it results in a mixed soup of storytelling. With a runtime of only 90-minutes, it could’ve easily been expanded to help flesh out certain ideas, concepts, and characters in a meaningful way.
Like the first movie, the sequel is heavily aimed at younger kids, and this can clearly be seen in the writing. The jokes aren’t complex or layered like one would expect from a Pixar animation, but they work on a superficial level. A specific scene sees the shimmering Guy Diamond (Kunal Nayyar) give birth to a child through his mountainous hair. Voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson, Tiny Diamond wears seventies sunglasses and makes childish quips such as “hold me, daddy”. Although it didn’t tickle my funny bone, one could argue a younger audience would enjoy the slapstick humour.
Admittedly, there are moments when Trolls World Tour dips into the weird and wild to appease a more mature viewer. The gag used during a sequence involving Mr Dinkles (Kevin Michael Richardson) arriving at the gates of heaven echoes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). However, what stood out the most was an incredibly underused subplot involving a group of bounty hunters. Like an animated version of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Barb places a ransom on Poppy’s head. Thus opening the door for a group of other Trolls (K-Pop, Reggae, Jazz, Yodellers) to track down the Queen of Pop. There’s a hilarious, trippy sequence involving Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Grey) as the character Chazz. The smooth Jazz Troll’s music can whisk you away to a psychedelic dreamland, with white tigers and unlimited sushi. It’s crazily imaginative and reminiscent of Dorhn’s previous work on SpongeBob SquarePants.
While Trolls World Tour doesn’t outsing the original, it makes up for it with incredible animation and talented voice actors. Co-directors Dohrn and Smith explore new characters and new music, delivering a bright and immersive world. Although the plot’s derivative and struggles to stay within one lane, it’s a brisk 90-minutes. One could argue that if Trolls World Tour had been released in cinemas, it would be considered a mediocre follow-up… but given to the world in times of uncertainty and segregation, it serves as a good-hearted metaphor to embrace diversity. Even if you’re not a Trolls fan, the ultimate message is something that should be sung from the rooftops.
USA | 2020 | 90 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Voices & Crew
directors: Walt Dohrn & David P. Smith.
writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Elizabeth Tippet, Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky (story by Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger, based on the ‘Troll dolls’ by Thomas Dam).
voices: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson Paak, Sam Rockwell, George Clinton & Mary J. Blige).