Movie review: Trolls
If you ever wondered what it would be like to drop acid in the middle of a Michaels craft store, Trolls is all glitter and felt as it scrapbooks happiness to a dance beat
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christine Baranski, John Cleese, Gwen Stefani, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor
Directed by: Walt Dohrn, Mike Mitchell
Running time: 92 minutes
By Katherine Monk
Is it a Saturday morning kids’ movie or the cutest acid trip this side of the Electric Daisy Carnival? The answer is both, because Trolls functions as a full-on animated adventure about the nature of love and friendship, but it also features glitter canons, mirror balls and non-stop dancing.
It’s like someone dropped a tab and walked through Toys R Us, started an existential conversation with a Troll doll, then totally tripped out at Michaels in the middle of the scrapbooking department.
Fun. Right? But also weird, weird in that unpredictable way that holds your attention somewhere between shock and giddy surprise.
Part of the oddness stems from the familiar. Troll dolls popped onto the pop culture landscape in the mid-1960s, after a cash-poor Danish fisher named Thomas Dam carved one out of wood for his daughter’s birthday present.
By 1965, naked trolls with orange hair and glass eyes were invading the shores of North America, making homes for themselves in shoeboxes, toy trunks and Osh-Kosh pockets throughout Cold War suburbia.
Anyone who grew up with one knows the hard contours of their bulbous bellies and the feel of their fuzzy pates, so to watch a whole community of trolls engage in their very own troll world without us feels a little foreign.
This is a world where humans don’t exist at all. Human traits are essentially thrown into two columns: good traits such as loyalty, optimism and kindness are assigned to the wee trolls who live in a troll tree, while negative traits such as selfishness, greed, pessimism and power-mongering define the world of the Bergens, a bigger universe that bears a marked likeness to our own.
The Bergens are miserable. They wear drab colours and shuffle through their cobblestone streets without a hint of joy. They toil and obey in tuneless fashion, and their only comfort is the annual Trollstice festival, where Bergens are given a chance at devouring a little troll and finding bliss.
The trolls are essentially the equivalent of ecstasy, allowing the uptight Bergens a chance at rest, relaxation and amplified courtship – a much-needed commodity in unhappy Bergen land.
Yet, Trollstice hasn’t happened for 20 years. Ever since Troll King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) led a brave escape from the Bergens to save his daughter, Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), the Bergens have been Troll-less, and thus, joy-less.
Bergen Prince Gristle would love to taste happiness, but the Trolls haven’t been seen in decades.
Partying far away from the Bergens, the Trolls dedicate their lives to hugging, singing and dancing. But it all goes a little too far when Poppy holds a huge party, complete with Troll pyrotechnics, and attracts the attention of the exiled Bergen chef (Christine Baranski).
Before long, the Trolls have been rounded up, caged and seasoned for the forthcoming feast. Only an act of true bravery, and a heart full of song, could save the day. Enter Branch (Justin Timberlake), a woeful Troll who finds redemption and happiness in a selfless act – not to mention a few killer song and dance numbers that showcase his incredible pipes.
Even without their fleshy representations, Kendrick and Timberlake conjure real screen chemistry through song. Their voices harmonize beautifully, ensuring all the musical parts to Trolls are top-notch. It’s an important piece of this movie’s success, because music defines the Troll lifestyle—and sings directly to our own souls.
Whether it’s a Cindy Lauper cover of True Colors or an original tune from actor-exec producer Timberlake, the score enhances the magic, and modulates some of the flatter moments of matinee narrative.
The music also softens the creepy, underlying consumer agenda: DreamWorks Animation bought the all Troll doll licenses and patents back in 2010, which means every character they create in Trolls was market-researched, focus-grouped and packaged before the movie was even finished.
Eerier still, they all feel like a cast of carefully selected teenagers, each one appealing to a certain demographic within the electronic dance music community: There’s a big English guy with a strange pet jelly bean, perky pink princess Poppy, moody but manly Branch, a hip harmonica-playing giraffe troll with a Kangol-styled hat, a resident troll DJ (Gwen Stefani) and Satin and Chenille, the fashion twins voices by Icona Pop (Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo).
There are times when it feels more like a spectacular ad campaign more than a kids’ movie, but there really isn’t much of a difference these days. Every entertainment comes with a potential product line, and this one consists of acrylic, glitter and felt. Fortunately, while the all the felt may be digital, all the feelings are sincere – even when they verge on psychedelic.
THE EX-PRESS, November 4, 2016