Trolls, DreamWorks’s new animated adaptation of the curious little wild-haired dolls which date back to 1959, plays like Inside Out meets Up mixed with the art design of Little Big Planet, The Lorax and The Boxtrolls and infused with the infectious energy of a Justin Timberlake concert. It’s the type of movie a cineaste might rail against for its lack of originality and a pop culture obsessive might turn into a thinkpiece debating the film’s message about happiness (overly simplistic? deceptively meaningful?). Those adults and parents who don’t take films quite so seriously will likely regard Trolls as being “a cute movie.” The kids of the world will, of course, demand Trolls-related toys for the next couple of months and probably amuse family members while dancing to songs on the soundtrack through Spotify. Thankfully, this shouldn’t turn into a “Let It Go” situation since Trolls is at least 50% jukebox musical reusing beloved older songs, the highlight being a genuinely heartwarming incorporation of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” in a pivotal scene.
Normally, I would fall into the “cineaste” category, and ever so insufferably roll my eyes at those who would begin and end their discussion of Trolls with “it’s a cute movie.” Yet here I am wishing I could simply say “it’s a cute movie,” watch the music video for Justin Timberlake’s big song (“Can’t Stop This Feeling”) on the soundtrack and then call it a day. I’ll at least share the video:
And that right there is what Trolls is about. It’s about inspiring people to just get up and dance. Stop being so sad. Stop looking for happiness in all sorts of external sources. True happiness lies inside of you. To unlock it, sometimes you just need to move to the groove of an infectious song.
Wait, is life really that simple? Didn’t Inside Out teach the kids of the world it’s okay to be sad sometimes, that even life’s most joyful moments can have a tinge of sadness in them? What exactly is Trolls bringing to the table, just a wide-eyed boast that we can all be happy all the time as long as we have friends and family? Plus, where does any of this leave those with hearing disabilities as well as those who are physically incapable of dancing?
What’s that you’re saying, other me? I couldn’t hear your nitpicking over “Can’t Stop This Feeling,” which has been on constant rotation in my head for months. You’re right, though. I need to re-focus. After all, I’m supposed to be writing a review. Back to it.
Trolls’ message about happiness is communicated through a somewhat wonky plot. In a fantasy world, there live two primary creatures: trolls and bergens, the former being endlessly optimistic folk given to constant partying and hugging and the latter Boxtroll-like creatures who believe happiness can only be achieved by eating trolls since that releases the equivalent of endorphins into their bloodstream. The trolls, led by a brave king (Jeffrey Tambor), escape their captivity and live in hiding for 20 years until Princess Poppyseed’s (Anna Kendrick) big party draws the bergens right to them, resulting in the capture of all the Princess’ friends.
Undeterred, Princess Poppyseed vows to rescue everyone, turning to Branch (Justin Timberlake) for help since not only is he the only unhappy troll she knows he’s also the resident expert in all things bergen. He, of course, initially (and predictably) refuses to help, but she manipulates him into going with her, thus setting up a familiar buddy comedy pairing which eventually morphs into rom-com:
She’s the Princess Vanellope to his Wreck-It Ralph.
She’s the Russell to his Carl.
She’s the Rapunzel to his Flynn.
She’s the Joy to his Sadness.
Along the way, they encounter all the craziness the world has to offer (including a talking cloud), and then end up playing Cyrano to a scullery maid (Zooey Deschanel, whose voices sounds digitally altered during dialogue but completely natural during her songs) who is madly in love with bergen King (Josh Gad). Can the scullery maid and King find love and happiness together, and if so what does that mean for the bergens’ belief that happiness can only be attained by
popping pills eating trolls?
Wait, what? I just posted that same music video again? What is wrong with me? Pull it together, man. Focus. Be not swayed by Timberlake’s, um, swaying hips. I need to finish this review, maybe talk about the clever bits when the animation briefly reverts to a cardboard cutout 2D style to mimic the scrapbook the Princess is making about her adventure. At least acknowledge the presence of supporting cast members like James Corden (likable as per usual as a heavy-set member of the Princess’ entourage), Russell Brand (as Branch’s rival for the Princess’ affection), Christine Baranski (as the villain) and even Gwen Stefani (as…actually, I never recognized her voice). Maybe joke about not taking things too seriously when this is a universe in which one troll speaks in nothing but autotuned singing, another shoots glitter out of their ass and another poops out cupcakes when nervous.
“Nothing I can see but you when you dance, dance, dance”
Oh, no you don’t, Justin Timberlake song. Get out of my head! I’m not done debating the merits of this film.
“Feeling good, good, creeping up on you/So just dance, dance, dance, come on/All those things I shouldn’t do, But you dance, dance, dance”
It’s. Just. Too. Catchy. Strength to resist falling. Falling. RISING. Falling. Gone.
“And ain’t nobody leaving soon, so keep dancing/ I can’t stop the feeling/So just dance, dance, dance/
I can’t stop the feeling/So just dance, dance, dance, come on”
Fine. I give up. That Trolls? Yeah, it’s a cute movie. So, just dance, dance, dance.