You gotta wonder if the folk at DreamWorks Animation are feeling okay when their most current outings are a Fantasy jukebox musical based on the Thomas Dam troll dolls and an upcoming comedy in which Alec Baldwin plays an infant in a business suit. Combining an uninspired idea with the fact that it bears some resemblance to the live-action Smurfs movie, Trolls doesn’t exactly come at you with good signs. It isn’t down there with some of DreamWorks’ worst, but it’s not gonna leave any meaningful impression on anyone either way.
Trolls is colorful, cute and well-rendered, but so is almost every big-budget animation at this point. Children will probably enjoy it, although not only will they will get far more out of the equally radiant Inside Out (as will whatever adult guardian is forced to join them), but in the year that gave us The Little Prince, Kubo and the Two Strings, and the albeit slightly overrated Zootopia, there are several superior options.
The story is simple. We predictably meet the Trolls, a race that lives in peace and joyousness in their vibrant little world, always dancing around and singing songs that wouldn’t sound of place on the Spotify Top 20. And also defecating non-metaphorical cupcakes. We get to know Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), the most cheerful resident of all, Branch (Justin Timberlake), a sad sack who doesn’t share the unbreakable joy of his peers, King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), whose name cannot possibly have been an accident, and Suki, a local DJ played by Gwen Stefani. Oh, DreamWorks!
The life of the Trolls seems fun-loving and free of worries. However, their harmony is threatened by an evil race known as Bergens, led by John Cleese‘s King Gristle and his son Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who feed on the Trolls to drain their happiness in a not even remotely Gargamel-esque fashion. As the Bergens attack one day and kidnap majority of the Trolls, only Branch and Poppy are left behind, forced to work together in spite of their differences and go free their friends.
Interestingly, the Bergens more closely resemble the trolls of Scandinavian folklore than any of the titular Trolls do. Maybe that’s why they’re so angry? Their good name has been tarnished and cute-ified.
As you’d imagine, there are still characters and celebrities left to name, including Zooey Deschanel as a relatively non-evil Bergen named Bridget, Russell Brand as what appears to be a Buddhist (evidently Trolls have religious belief systems similar to ours), and co-director Walt Dohrn as various extras, most fascinatingly a cloud with arms and legs. He even exhausts rain and lightning depending on his mood.
Familiar songs are heard throughout the film, including some covered works of Simon & Garfunkel, Lionel Ritchie and Gwen Stefani – plus a few original works of Timberlake, who is also credited as a producer on the film. Needless to mention, we aren’t talking a musical where the tunes in question are timeless and memorable by design.
Despite my confidence that this movie’s probably gonna be washed away by the sands of time even faster than DreamWorks’ Peabody & Sherman film (bet you’d forgotten about that), critics and audiences seem oddly fond of it. I’m not sure why something like this would resonate with so many people. It is unimaginative in its designs, it has characters and story arcs we recognize from too many other movies to remember, and it is at times insufferably cutesy. Also, did I mention that the entire movie is based around friggin’ Troll dolls yet?
What I suppose it has going for it is its colorfulness and animation. That and all the pop songs, but that’s not necessarily a compliment as much as it is a reason why people liked it. When you choose to cast the two members of the band Icona Pop in roles where you could have cast experienced voice-over actors, it is clear what you care most about.
I am giving these Trolls a 2.5/5 and a threat from Denmark. If you want to see it with your friends and/or offspring, I’m not going to stop it. I can even throw it a few bones and assert that it’s not as bad as Smurfs 2 or even Troll 2.