VOD film review: Trolls World Tour
Nathanael Smith | On 09, Apr 2020
Director: Walt Dohrn
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden
One suspects that few parents wanted a sequel to the first Trolls film. The candy floss colours, high energy musical numbers and that song by Justin Timberlake probably led to incessant repeat viewings of the silly, likeable but largely uninspired animation. The thought of a sequel may have been good reason for dread.
Until, that is, schools were cancelled, the world shut down and suddenly a major cinema release became a streaming premiere. Trolls World Tour arrives as a balm to an anxious, cooped up nation and a crucial distraction for parents at the end of their homeschooling tether. They may not be able to take their kids to the cinema, but here’s a major new release that is custom-built to keep kids entertained. In the unique cultural moment that has led to the at-home release of Trolls World Tour, that’s just about all it needs to be.
The good news, however, is that it’s a little bit more than that. It will most definitely entertain children and it may just provide a fun escape for anyone wanting a dose of surreal, fuzzy comedy with the most undemanding plot you can imagine. The story is rooted in lore that’s unexpectedly dense for a film franchise designed to sell toys. The short version: there are six different types of trolls, each one representing a different genre of music. The troll queen of rock music, Barb (Rachel Bloom), wants to eliminate all other genres. Our heroes – Poppy and Branch, two Pop Trolls – need to find Barb, demonstrate the joy of pop music and stop the other genres from being wiped out. It’s equal parts insane and inane, opening up the potential for lots of vividly realised worlds while still cleaving to a fairly standard adventure template.
A lot of the problems of the first film still plague this one. There’s little interest in characters moving beyond their one-line summaries or their defining joke. A lot of the gags feel like they appeared in the first draft and never got polished. The musical finale, ostensibly celebrating differences in tastes and cultures, actually gives little space for the very traits it wishes to champion. An inventive mash-up of the six genres would have been a far more satisfying resolution to the narrative, but it’s about the blandest number possible – not a patch on the infectious hook of Can’t Stop the Feeling.
Yet in spite of the simplistic writing and curiously flat adventure, Trolls World Tour has an undeniable appeal. Succumb to its sugary goodness and you may just find yourself having a good time. The visuals, for one thing, are surprisingly impressive. The world of Trolls is realised in fuzz and string, fabric and glitter; it’s like nestling into a warm blanket. There’s an alluring tactility to the universe, which remains consistent throughout the film. It may be too soft and too colourful for an audience subconsciously trained to think that “realistic = good”, but it’s a choice they commit to wholeheartedly. It’s heartening to see animation with a clearly defined visual style and flawless execution.
In between the big musical numbers and the fuzzy scenery, the writers sneak in some curious thematic decisions, too. Who would have thought that a Trolls sequel could include a critique of pop music’s appropriation of other genres? It’s like there’s a tension between the pressures of making a film to be marketed towards hyperactive kids and a creative team behind the scenes smuggling in big ideas and cutting-edge visuals.
Most enjoyable, however, is the utterly surreal sense of humour that permeates the whole thing. Alongside the crazy non-sequiturs, we meet the deity of Mr Dinkles, witness a hallucinogenic Smooth Jazz trip featuring a tiger and we get Kenan Thompson playing a baby glitter troll called Tiny Diamond. At times, the stop motion-aping visual style and background gags are reminiscent of Aardman at their best. Some children will probably name Trolls World Tour as their new favourite film. It’s unlikely to be yours, but you’re sure to have fun nonetheless.