‘Trolls World Tour’ Review: You Were Warned, You Can’t Stop the Feeling
The Avengers had the Infinity Stones. The Trolls have magic strings — six of them, all of different colors — which are supposedly the source of all music. And each string generates a certain genre: Techno, funk, classical, country, hard rock, and pop. (These are the only kinds of music, right?) Unite all the strings and … something happens. It’s not entirely clear what. Queen Barb of the Hard Rock Trolls seems to think if she collects the strings and plays a power cord with them she can take over the whole Troll universe. Maybe she’s right? She could also be trolling the other Trolls.
The mythology of Trolls World Tour, as you can see, is both dense and a little vague. Barb (Rachel Bloom) isn’t the only Queen; there’s also Poppy (Anna Kendrick), the Queen of the Pop Trolls. And each queen has a fatherly king they inherited their throne from; Barb’s is voiced by none other than rock legend Ozzy Osborne. (The other four genres of music have various leaders too; the King and Queen of the Funk Trolls are George Clinton and Mary J. Blige, while Kelly Clarkson voices the top Country Troll.) There’s even a Troll voiced by Jamie Dornan for some reason who plays smooth jazz on a soprano sax. It’s a very weird world, one that’s mostly designed as an excuse for celebrity cameos and recognizable needle drops.
It’s certainly not what I would have imagined a Trolls movie would have looked like back in the ’90s when the floofy-haired toys became an inexplicably popular fad for a brief period. Many years after their peak popularity, the toys spawned the first Trolls movie, which did well enough to launch an animated series and now a second movie. Both films seem engineered from the soundtrack up — Justin Timberlake, the voice of the lead male Troll, Branch, is a credited executive music producer — and if Trolls World Tour gets little kids interested in some of the classics featured on its soundtrack, that’s not the worst thing in the world.
I do wonder how kids — not to mention their parents — will react to hard rock music getting vilified as the bad guy in this scenario for most of its runtime, and to pop music being repeatedly insulted as a worthless musical genre. Naturally, the eventual message of Trolls World Tour is a bit more harmonious. On the whole, though, the filmmakers, including director Walt Dohrn, do seem to favor some styles of music over others.
Dwelling on any of this is probably not advised. By virtue of the fact that it’s become the first major Hollywood production to forego its planned theatrical release and go straight to VOD in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Trolls World Tour is already burdened with more significance than its creators ever intended. Whether its unique release strategy makes it a historical footnote or an important turning point in the history of an industry will only be clear in hindsight. For now, it’s just a colorful kids movie. I can’t tell you whether it would have played better in a theater because I saw it at home like everyone else.
I can tell you that at only 90 minutes with credits, Trolls World Tour is hardly a taxing experience. It’s loaded with great music and bursting with psychedelic colors; its target audiences of extremely small children and ironic dirtbags looking for something visually stimulating to watch while they’re high will both be satisfied. Outside of those core groups, your mileage may vary. Certainly, if a sober adult to describe any individual scene out of context, they would sound completely insane. In one particularly bizarre sequence, the Pop Trolls are pursued by the Country Trolls — who also happen to be centaurs — and one of them uses his prehensile mustache to hold on to Branch’s feet while he’s also getting his butt chomped on by a miniature Country Troll whose teeth can spin in his mouth like the front of the giant mining tank from Total Recall. And this is just one image of about 30 that are at least this bizarre.
The great film critic Gene Siskel invented a test he famously applied to movies of questionable value. “Is this film,” he would ask, “more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” Given that its cast includes Kenan Thompson, the McElroy brothers, Sam Rockwell, and the K-pop group Red Velvet, Trolls World Tour would undoubtedly fail the Siskel Test. Inspired by the film’s surreal plot and visuals, I would like to propose a new test, as follows: “Is this movie more entertaining than watching its writers try to successfully pitch this storyline to executives?”
-Although his role is almost as small as his character, I enjoyed Kenan Thompson a lot as Tiny Diamond, the newborn son of another Troll, Tiny Diamond. Please to not ask me to contemplate how the Trolls reproduce.
-Trolls World Tour’s opening number is “Trolls Just Wanna Have Fun,” sung to the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Just so you know what you’re getting into here.
-Over the course of a single mashup music number, Justin Timberlake since songs by the Spice Girls, LMFAO, Psy, and Mark Wahlberg. You can never accuse that man of a lack of range.
-There are many strange moments in this movie, but I can’t think of a stranger one than hearing the lyric “I want you to sing from your soul, I want you to reach with your elbows!” emanate from the mouth of a creature that possesses no arms, much less elbows.
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