Trolls World Tour, 2020.
Directed by Walt Dohrn.
Featuring the voice talents of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, James Corden, Kunal Nayyar, Caroline Hjelt, Aino Jawo, Ron Funches, Rachel Bloom, Ozzy Osbourne, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson Paak, Kenan Thompson, J Balvin, Anthony Ramos, and Gustavo Dudamel.
Poppy and Branch discover that there are six different troll tribes scattered over six different lands. Each tribe is also devoted to six different kinds of music – funk, country, techno, classical, pop and rock. When rockers Queen Barb and King Thrash set out to destroy the other music, Poppy and Branch embark on a daring mission to unite the trolls and save the diverse melodies from becoming extinct.
While the overwhelming majority of Hollywood’s upcoming tentpole slate has been shuttled to the back-end of 2020 or to an elusive “TBA” date, Universal made the surprising decision to make an experiment out of DreamWorks’ new animated sequel Trolls World Tour by dropping it on VOD services day-and-date worldwide.
It is, at least, a relatively low-stakes provocation given that the first film was a modest box office success at best and, let’s be honest, few were avidly hankering for a follow-up. And even with its spritely, state-of-the-art visuals clearly made to be seen on the biggest screen possible, the undemanding nature of this easy-going family animation makes it an apt fit for the small(er) screen debut.
2016’s Trolls was a disappointingly bland offering which wallowed in its own empty, candy-coloured visuals and soullessly auto-tuned, over-produced pop covers, to the point where it pretty much felt like the cinematic equivalent of double-fisting two packs of Skittles.
So it’s a mildly pleasant surprise to report that while Trolls World Tour is hardly a tectonic leap in quality from what came before, it is a sequel that sufficiently ups the scale and stakes from the original, and also addresses perhaps the key complaint people had with it.
If Trolls felt hopelessly entrenched in high-calorie mediocrity with its incessant array of bubblegum covers of classic pop licks accompanied by only faint scraps of actual narrative, Trolls World Tour has more free-wheeling and diverse concerns on its mind from first minute to last.
The narrative, for all it matters, is literally focused on the Pop Trolls discovering that there are various other tribes of Trolls out there – each conveniently defined by a prominent musical genre – and coming to terms with embracing the differences and eccentricities of these disparate cultures.
But a spanner is thrown into the works by Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom), a totalitarian Rock Troll tyrant who wishes to steal each tribe’s colour-coded MacGuffin – a guitar string which binds each tribe together…somehow – in order to unite all the trolls in “harmony” under the umbrella of rock. It’s something akin to a barmy hybrid of Avengers: Infinity War and Bill & Ted, as mad as that might sound.
There’s a prevailing “the more the merrier” inclusion thematic cutting throughout the film, which while hammered home quite relentlessly with only a middling level of creativity, does at least allow an important message to transpire through to young viewers. For adults, it meanwhile allows the soundtrack to expand from the saccharine singularity of the first film, unleashing a far more egalitarian smorgasbord of music upon audiences of all ages, accompanied by a broader statement on the close-mindedness of musical elitism.
Yes, Trolls World Tour covers everything from Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” to The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” and even dares to spice the jukebox singalongs with the occasional history lesson. When the Funk Troll tribe shows up later on, for instance, they hilariously and pointedly admonish the Pop Trolls for cribbing from their culture without giving sufficient credit; a transparent allegory if there ever was one.
Meanwhile, Rock Queen Barb may be the film’s out-and-out villain, but she vocally disses the Pop Trolls for being “bland,” and it’s honestly often hard to argue with her. At times I wasn’t sure if the film was aware of quite how astutely it was bagging on its own protagonists, even if it’s not much of a spoiler to say that a holistic, all-encompassing compromise is reached by film’s end.
It’s no understatement to say that the cast is a sheer embarrassment of riches, though they’re put to rather uneven use throughout. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake are fine enough as the peppy yet ultimately flavourless heroes, so it often calls for the slack to be picked up by the supporting players, namely a brilliantly cast Sam Rockwell as the rootin’ tootin’ Country Troll Hickory, and Kenan Thompson’s hilarious Hip-Top Troll Tiny Diamond. That’s not to ignore a scene-stealing recurring cameo by Ozzy himself as Barb’s doddering old dad, King Thrash.
At the end of the day, Trolls World Tour isn’t a film that’s going to rattle around in the brain for long, but its episodic video game-style travelogues to various visually stunning music-themed lands provides sufficiently snappy mental nourishment for 90 laid-back minutes. It didn’t make my head ache from sheer yawn-inducing boredom like the first film, largely thanks to a surprisingly self-aware streak and a decidedly more democratic playlist.
While the film’s characters do often verbalise the overall message a little too loudly, the well-meaning nature makes it hard to bristle up against too much. Trolls World Tour flatly asks its young audience to not only embrace those around them with differences, but also to consider other perspectives and listen more than you speak.
Trolls World Tour may only be a serviceable animation, but its inclusive persuasion and willingness to improve upon its soulless predecessor’s shortcomings make it a disarmingly subversive surprise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.